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Accused behind Singapore penny stock crash is denied bail again

john soh.jpg
Soh faces 188 charges over his alleged involvement in the market manipulation - including seven charges of witness tampering brought against him ahead of the previous bail hearing on Feb 28, 2017.

THE man accused of being behind the penny stock crash of 2013 was denied bail in a High Court hearing on Tuesday afternoon.

John Soh Chee Wen was turned down by a lower court in an earlier bid for bail a year ago. Soh, 59, was deemed a flight risk at the time. He has been in remand since his arrest in November 2016.

He faces 188 charges over his alleged involvement in market manipulation - including seven charges of witness tampering brought against him ahead of the previous bail hearing on Feb 28, 2017.

Soh and his alleged co-conspirators have been accused of fixing the prices of penny stocks Blumont Group, Asiasons Capital and LionGold Corp. The ensuing crash wiped more than S$8 billion off the market.

Soh has argued that being in remand has "hampered" his opportunity to prepare his defence sufficiently.

But Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, in delivering her decision on Tuesday, said that she agreed with the prosecution that Soh was a flight risk and there was a possibility that he might engage in witness tampering.

She noted that Soh is a Malaysian, with no family ties in Singapore, and has by his own admission travelled in and out of Singapore "undetected" in the past.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Peter Koy, Nicholas Tan and Ng Jean Ting had contended in a submission on Feb 12 that Soh "presents a real, extraordinary and immediate danger of flight", as he "has entered and exited Singapore on multiple occasions using illegal means".

The prosecution pointed to witness evidence that Soh had travelled across the Singapore-Malaysia land border on an Indonesian passport.

The prosecution also said that there is evidence, in the form of statements made to a third party, that he planned to leave Singapore for Malaysia by boat in 2015 for Chinese New Year despite his passport having been impounded.

"The applicant's compliance with police bail conditions imposed on him prior to his being charged carry little weight," the prosecution argued.

"He had simply not reached the point where he believed he needed to take the risk of absconding. Now, his risk of flight is real, immediate and palpable, and no quantum of bail can sufficiently address this risk."

Pointing to the witness tampering allegations, the prosecution had also argued that "there is a grave and immediate risk to the public interest if he is released on bail".

The prosecution said that there is a "real and serious risk that the applicant will further tamper with witnesses" in such a case.

Justice Hoo said on Tuesday: "Considering the gravity of the charges faced by the applicant, should he be granted bail, there is the possibility of witnesses being tampered with."

She noted that, [24]in considering whether bail should be granted, "it is important to guard against the possibility of witnesses being tampered with which could prejudice a fair trial".

"This further tilts the balance against the grant of bail[/24]," she added.

This was in spite of Soh's offer to be subjected to "stringent" conditions if allowed out on bail. He had proposed measures such as being made to remain within a designated residence, wearing a device such as an electronic ankle bracelet and undertaking not to conduct any trading.

Justice Hoo said: "I do not think that these bail conditions, even if they could be implemented, would address the two risk factors that I have highlighted above."

Soh was represented by lawyers Narayanan Sreenivasan, Selvarajan Balamurugan and Jason Lim Wei Liang, of Straits Law Practice.

He and his previous counsel, a legal team from WongPartnership, parted ways in November 2017 over what was said to be a fresh conflict of interest.

Trial dates have yet to be fixed, but Justice Hoo said that expedited dates could be allowed.

As the trial "is likely to be lengthy" and Soh may be in remand for a lengthy period, Justice Hoo said: "On this point, I would urge parties to give priority to the matter, so that the trial can proceed, progress and conclude expeditiously."

Mr Balamurugan told the media after the hearing that whether or not a third attempt at bail is made will depend on Soh's instructions to his lawyers.

While making his fresh attempt at bail, Soh had sought from the prosecution certain documents involving witness statements, which he said would help his case.

But a different judge, Justice See Kee Oon, decided last August that the request was too broad and amounted to a "fishing expedition" for evidence that the prosecution had.