(June 25): The prospects for HSBC Holdings Plc and other banks to recover losses from a failed Singapore oil trader are dimmer than originally thought after an accounting review found the energy firm overstated assets by US$3 billion (S$4.17 billion) and fabricated documents on a “massive scale.”

Hin Leong Trading (Pte) Ltd. has assets of about US$257 million, or 7% of its estimated US$3.5 billion in liabilities, the company’s interim managers said in a report to Singapore’s High Court on Tuesday. That’s less than half the assets estimated by founder Lim Oon Kuin and his son Evan Lim, according to earlier affidavits to the court.

HSBC is among 23 banks owed almost US$4 billion by Hin Leong, one of the largest traders in Singapore before its collapse in April following a plunge in oil prices that exposed what the report found were “manipulated” accounts and frequent double counting of cargo to keep credit lines flowing.

See: Documents forged on a “massive scale” at Hin Leong to hide losses

“The scale and regularity of the fabrication suggests that the practice was routine and pervasive,” the report found. “These forged documents enabled the company to mislead banks in extending financing to the company and also acted as supporting documentation for the fictitious gains and profits.”

HSBC, the London-based bank with the most exposure to Hin Leong at about US$600 million, declined to comment on the report. Hin Leong didn’t respond to email inquiries seeking comment. The court filing was earlier reported by Reuters and Singapore’s Straits Times.

Hin Leong “systematically manipulated its accounts to inflate the value of its accounts receivables” to present an exaggerated picture of its financial health, according to the report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC’s Chan Kheng Tek and Goh Thien Phong. Chan and Goh, who were appointed in April as interim judicial managers to oversee the company, added that Hin Leong has “no reasonable prospect” of rehabilitation as a standalone entity.

Legal Disputes

The trading house and its sister companies owned by the Lim family should be put together as an integrated trading platform to be restructured, while the Lims should inject their personal assets, the managers said in the report. The Lims, who received dividends totalling $90 million in the 2018 and 2017 fiscal years, haven’t responded to this suggestion via their legal advisers, according to the report.

The Hin Leong collapse has sparked several legal disputes among banks and other creditors seeking to recover losses from the debacle. Sinopec last month lost a legal bid to halt a loan payment, while Winson Oil Trading Pte. Ltd. took Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. to court, demanding payment for a sale of fuel tied to Hin Leong.

Hin Leong’s audited financial statements for the financial year ended in October overstated the value of its assets by at least US$3 billion, according to the report. This overstatement comprised $2.23 billion in accounts receivables that have no prospect of recovery, and US$800 million in inventory shortfalls, it said.

As part of the alleged manipulation, Hin Leong transferred money among its various bank accounts to give the false impression that accounts receivables were collected, when no payments were received, the managers said. This not only inflated the value of the balances, but also gave it an appearance of legitimacy by ensuring that the accounts were kept current, they said.

The moves helped conceal significant losses, the managers said, adding that Hin Leong suffered derivatives trading hits of about $808 million over the past decade.

Non-Existent Cargo

Among its US$3.5 billion in liabilities, there are about 273 outstanding letters of credit facilities issued by 23 lenders, the report said. About 60 of them, amounting to US$1.5 billion, were used in bilateral or multi-party transactions in which Hin Leong would buy and sell the same cargo on the same date, or within a short interval, at a loss. These trades were done for the sake of obtaining liquidity, the report said.

Banks Amounts Owed in US$ Million as of April
HSBC $600
OCBC, DBS, ABN Amro $250-$300
BOC, Rabobank, StanChart, SocGen $210-$240
Natixis, ANZ $160-$190
CIMB, SMBC, UOB $130-$140
Westpac, Deutsche Bank, QNB, Unicredit $60-$90
DZ, JPMorgan, ING $40-$50
In other instances, the company would sell and buy back non-existent cargo from its counterparty for financing, the report said. Other transactions included purchasing cargo only to sell it back simultaneously without taking physical delivery.

The PwC report said the company and founder OK Lim haven’t replied to questions from the managers, nor stated whether or when they will respond. Lim’s lawyers said he is unwell and won’t be able to assist “for a prolonged period of time,” according to the report.

See also: