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Lawyer Jeffrey Ong faces 13 fresh charges, and is denied bail
JLC Advisors managing partner Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, pressed by partners of his law firm to account for unauthorised withdrawals of clients' money, took off to Malaysia on May 13, leaving Singapore via the Tuas Checkpoint.
This and other details of the roughly two weeks he spent in hiding in Malaysia - till his arrest and repatriation back to Singapore on May 30 - emerged in the State Courts on Thursday, when a fresh lot of 13 charges was brought against the 41-year-old Singaporean lawyer.
To his application for bail, the prosecution cited his escape to Malaysia and his efforts to stay under the radar as evidence that he was a flight risk.
Bail was denied.
The 13 fresh charges read out on Thursday allege that he, on or before March 27, forged statements of JLC Advisors' US-dollar bank account at Standard Chartered.
The statements, for the months of October 2017 to February 2018 and from July 2018 to February 2019, were said to have been used to deceive a Chan Yi Zhang into believing that about US$4.86 million in respect of the settlement between Airtrust (Singapore) and Wrangwell Ltd was still being held by JLC Advisors in escrow and had not been touched.
It is not clear who this Mr Chan is; there was no information on him in the charge sheets, but The Business Times understands he is a lawyer.
Thursday's charges came from complaints filed by three clients of JLC Advisors, who had gone to the police over unauthorised transactions involving S$16 million in their funds held with the boutique law firm.
The 13 charges bring the number of charges Ong faces to 22 for now.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Nicholas Khoo, voicing objection to Ong's bail application, told the court on Thursday that the lawyer had fled Singapore on May 13, becoming incommunicado three days later.
Ong was said to have entered Malaysia in a car driven by a friend called Nicholas. Apart from his wife, Ong did not tell anyone else about his travel plans, the court heard.
In Malaysia, he met Nicholas' friend Dennis, and stayed in Dennis' office for two to three days, moving thereafter to a hotel in Kuala Lumpur's Cheras district.
Investigations showed that Ong did not pay for the hotel room with credit cards. For telephone calls, he used a China SIM card.
When he was arrested at the hotel on May 29, he allegedly had with him a stolen Malaysian passport, the owner of which was a 43-year-old Chinese male "with some resemblance" to him.
DPP Khoo, arguing against Ong being granted bail, said: "Therefore, the prosecution and the CAD (Commercial Affairs Department) are of the view that the accused is a high flight risk. Bail cannot be granted in this case."
Ong's lawyer Jennifer Sia, on the other hand, said her client hoped to be bailed out to spend time with his 22-month-old son and to settle personal affairs. She added that her client was prepared to be subject to bail conditions, including electronic monitoring and daily reporting.
Judge Luke Tan, unpersuaded, said: "Clearly, this is a high flight risk. The reasons given by defence counsel are inadequate and, to some extent, not relevant."
Ong will therefore continue to be remanded.
His case will again come up for mention on July 11.
In an affidavit submitted to the court in objection to bail, the investigation officer said investigation findings thus far indicate that "the scheme and extent of the fraud perpetrated by the accused is far larger and more complex than what was initially in the police report".
Ong was wanted by the Singapore police after a May 21 report against him for alleged criminal breach of trust by agent of at least S$33 million. The funds belonged to Catalist-listed precision-engineering firm Allied Technologies and had been held in escrow by JLC Advisors.
So far, none of the charges is related to Allied Tech's funds.
Ong was first charged with a cheating offence on June 1, after his return from Malaysia. This charge accused him of deceiving a company, CCJ Investments, into believing that it had a loan agreement with real-estate developer Suite Development.
About a fortnight later, he was charged with eight more counts of forgery for the purpose of defrauding CCJ to disburse S$6 million.
The punishment for each count of cheating or forgery is imprisonment of up to 10 years and also a fine.