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Allied Tech's missing S$33m: Law firm says partner Jeffrey Ong may have ordered withdrawal

ABOUT S$33 million of missing funds that belonged to Allied Technologies were taken out of an escrow account managed by JLC Advisors, possibly at the instruction of the law firm's managing partner, Jeffrey Ong Su Aun, Allied Tech said on Thursday evening in a filing on the Singapore Exchange.

The announcement, which cited a letter from JLC to the listed precision engineering company, placed Mr Ong at the centre of questions surrounding the missing cash. It confirmed a Business Times report on Thursday that S$33 million of clients' monies had gone missing at JLC, with the funds believed to belong to Allied Tech. Mr Ong is understood to be uncontactable.

Allied Tech said that it had sought repayment of the money at various times since March 23, 2019, including a May 17 letter of demand from the company's counsel, Rajah & Tann Singapore, but JLC failed to release the funds, the balance of which stands at S$33.2 million.

"At all material times, JLC's managing director, Mr Ong Su Aun, Jeffrey, had repeatedly represented to the company that the release of the escrow funds would be forthcoming, and had never once stated that the escrow funds were missing, that it had already been paid out or that JLC would not comply with the company's request to release the escrow funds in accordance with the escrow agreement," Allied Tech said.

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The company on Wednesday received a letter on JLC's letterhead stating that the funds of "S$33.4 million" deposited by the company with JLC have been purportedly paid out from the escrow account, and that JLC is still investigating, but has reasons to believe the said funds were paid out on the instructions of its partner Mr Ong and "might have been unauthorised". The letter also stated that JLC Advisors has lodged reports with relevant authorities.

Senior partner of JLC Vincent Lim told BT in the early hours of Friday that Mr Ong had not turned up for work for a week. "We have tried to contact him to seek his views on the concerns in relation to our firm's clients account and for him to assist with police investigations. We have not been able to contact him," Mr Lim said.

He also said the firm would like to clarify that while it informed Allied Technologies that the monies held in the escrow account was paid out on the instructions of Mr Ong, JLC has "no information at this time whether these payouts were undertaken by Mr Ong on his own initiative or on the instructions or request of others".

"There were several payouts to different persons and entities over the period in question. And there is no evidence at this time that there are any payouts to his own account or to any entity which to our knowledge was associated with him at that time. The firm is not aware at this time of the circumstances surrounding the payouts made over the relevant period.  Internal investigations are ongoing," Mr Lim said.

Allied Tech said in the SGX announcement that the amount stated as held by JLC on escrow is incorrect. The company said that Allied Tech executive director Kenneth Low Si Ren and independent director Lim Jin Wei are the joint signatories for any disbursements of funds from the escrow account, and both directors have confirmed that they have not given any instructions to release the escrow monies save for the demand of repayment on March 23.

Allied Tech is seeking further details and documentary evidence from JLC, as well as information on the whereabouts of Mr Ong. Allied Tech has also instructed its lawyers to lodge a police report, report the matter to the Law Society of Singapore, and commence legal proceedings as appropriate.

The 42-year-old Mr Ong took over the helm at the boutique law firm last year when it turned 10 years old. According to the firm's website, Mr Ong started his legal career in the area of commercial litigation and dispute resolution before expanding his practice to cover contentious restructuring and corporate advisory work. He also advises the boards of several public companies listed on the Singapore and Hong Kong Stock Exchange. "Jeffrey is equally comfortable both in the court room as well as the board room," said the website.

Separately, Annica Holdings said on Wednesday night that Mr Ong had on May 20 tendered his resignation – via e-mail – as acting non-executive chairman and independent director from the company with immediate effect. Mr Ong cited "personal reasons" for his sudden departure.

The Law Society on Wednesday took steps to intervene and take over the running of the account from JLC, citing suspicions of dishonesty.

Mr Lim said: "The firm has been informed of certain matters pertaining to one of our client's accounts which we were not previously aware of. This has caused us great concern. We have reported this matter to the police and the Law Society and are cooperating fully with these authorities to resolve the matter.

"We would like to assure all our many stakeholders, especially our clients, that we place their interests as our highest priority during this difficult time. We will continue to serve all their legal needs or assist to make alternative arrangements when necessary."