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Legal tangles add to woes of half the execs under investigation

Affected firms try to convince market business is as usual, but realities tell something else

Singapore

THE companies in the news over the probe by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) are eager to persuade the market that it's business as usual. But no one's convinced. Fund-raising plans have been scrapped or cut down, big buys shelved or left hanging and many investors have stomped out of these firms since the punishing event last October involving shares of Asiasons Capital, Blumont Group and LionGold Corp.

Now, the firms' top executives and several subsidiaries are entangled in probes involving possible trading irregularities in the trio's shares. The CAD is working with the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in the investigation. Those in CAD's cross hairs are mostly low-key individuals. Adding to their woes is that half of them are also caught up in legal tussles with banks and brokers expecting to recover hefty losses following the penny stock rout.

  • Blumont

Executive chairman Neo Kim Hock, a Malaysian certified land surveyor with properties and construction interests in Malaysia and the United States, landed with an opportunity to invest in Singapore in 2003. The calling came in the form of struggling Adroit Innovations, now called Blumont. Mr Neo, 67, funded the deal by selling one of his companies partially to Ipco. A month after Mr Neo emerged as substantial shareholder, a board revamp ensued. Enter James Hong Gee Ho, the firm's executive director. Mr Neo's reach here has also widened. In 2006, he owned a 26 per cent stake in Magnus Energy, then listed on Sesdaq. As for Mr Hong, 47, he baffled the market in 2005 when he emerged as Greatronic's white knight. Why invest in a troubled company months after it had called in the CAD to investigate its Malaysian unit for inflating receivables?

  • LionGold

Independent director Lynne Ng Su Ling is also Ipco's company secretary. Up until November, a month after the penny stock fiasco, when she unexpectedly stepped down, she was also Blumont's independent director. The gold miner's business and corporate development director Peter Chen Hing Woon's association with the group began in 2002. Magnus Energy, then called Strike Engineering, disposed a big stake in listed cable solutions firm Lantrovision to five people. Mr Chen was one of them. So was Mr Hong.

  • Annica Holdings

Annica, the counter which has been on a two-day trading halt, was the last of the eight to reveal details of the probe. It also seemed to have been the worst hit - so far. Its largest shareholder and executive director, Indonesian businessman Edwin Sugiarto, has had his passport impounded and is now on police bail after being "interviewed" by the CAD. Lim Meng Check, 43, stepped down as Annica's CEO in January 2013 to pursue other business opportunities. He held the post for four years and was also Ipco's independent director. He is also under probe. Mr Sugiarto first emerged in Annica in 2008 when it was called Oculus and was roiled by some $15 million in missing funds. Two years ago, he ran foul of the securities law and was fined by the MAS for late notification of the changes in his deemed interest of Annica. He was also a substantial shareholder of Australia-listed Merlin Diamonds, a firm which Innopac tried to take over in mid-2013.

  • ITE Electric Co

CEO Ho Cheng Leong, also the firm's shareholder, kicked off his career in the insurance sector and later joined Malaysia's MBF Group of Companies, then a huge diversified conglomerate and now a pale shadow of that. Mr Ho was also one of the placees of Annica Holdings' share placement in 2012, another related firm. ITE independent director Goh Hin Calm also handles Ipco's finance and administration matters and has been involved in other deals related to Innopac. Yesterday, Annica said Mr Goh, an independent director, is assisting the CAD with the investigations involving the firm. Ang Cheng Gian, 47, an accountant by profession, was appointed ITE's COO in 2005.

  • ISR Capital

CEO Quah Su-Yin, a Malaysian, has served the firm since 2011 when it was called Asiasons WFG Financial. She used to be head of institutional funds and client relations at Kuala Lumpur-based stockbroker AmInvestment. Insiders say Ms Quah and Ms Ng - both are qualified lawyers - were schoolmates, with Ms Quah's sister and Ipco CEO, Su-Ling.

  • Innopac

Wong Chin-Yong has been Innopac's boss since 2001 and began his career in treasury management at several international banks here before he joined the MAS as a senior officer.

  • Magnus Energy

Executive director and chief operating officer Koh Teng Kiat joined in July 2004 from listed L&M Group Investments, where he was general manager of finance. The chartered accountant, 58, sits on the boards of all Magnus subsidiaries here and overseas, including the ones being investigated. Magnus chief financial officer Luke Ho Khee Yong's career path in the firm is patchy. He served as CFO between 2009 and 2011, left to join Asiasons WFG (now called ISR) and in less than a year, rejoined as CFO.