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  • Julie O'Connor

'FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS' - COWARDICE, COVER-UPS AND CORRUPTION

Of course the truth makes some people uncomfortable, but it would be irresponsible of me to remain silent.


I didn't forge any signatures, I didn't witness them, I didn't enter a struck off company into legal agreements, I didn't fail to make disclosures to the market, I didn't send letters which would wipe 92.2% - 96.6% off the value of a company prior to an acquisition, I didn't offer A$3.6m to a plaintiff so that a pattern of fraud would be hidden prior to the announcement of over US$1.5Bn of proposed transactions. None of that was me....


When I decided to speak up, I was under no illusion that a Western female blowing the whistle on the errant and fraudulent activities of a privileged, well-connected Chinese Singaporean male, was going to be an uphill battle. What I didn't fully appreciate was the protection which his 'Friend with Benefits' status would provide him within Singapore.


After many years of raising red flags and seeing numerous cases of wilful blindness within audit committees, financial institutions, regulators etc, I became a fierce critic of the Singapore Government. But unlike those who attacked me, I never hid behind a pseudonym. As the New Zealand Rugby team, the All Blacks would say, I gave it to them in the belly and not the back. I didn't look at the Singapore Government through rose-tinted glasses. Rather, I saw them as hypocrites without courage, who talked a good talk when it came to a zero tolerance to corruption and criminal activities with no-one being above the law and no double standards; but who failed to convert their talk into action.


The decision to write open letters to both Singapore's Chief Justice and the Attorney General was not an easy one for me to make, but I was incensed at the injustice I was witnessing in Singapore. Yes, I was questioning the equity of Singapore's legal system because it didn't just affect Singaporeans, but foreigners like Parti Liyani, myself and many others. But even then, no one from the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) or the Singapore Government contacted me to ask why I sent those letters, because I suspect they already knew the answer. Instead they would use the usual tactics of 'killing the chicken to scare the monkey', by commencing Contempt of Court proceedings against a Singaporean for sharing one of my open letters.

Why Did I Speak Up?

Two Singaporeans conspired with others to defraud my family out of our total investment. We are not wealthy people and in 2013 I made the decision to stand up against these wealthy bullies who had engaged in fraudulent activities; and the cowards who would be complicit in a cover-up. We had done nothing more than invest in an Australian company, totally unaware that someone had inserted a struck off company into the shareholder agreement, using alleged forged signatures. A Singaporean Lionel Lee (Lee), who was the MD of EZRA Holdings and the Chairman of Triyards Holdings was shown as the contact for that 20% shareholding. It was claimed the shareholder agreement had been delivered to his Singapore office, then returned to Australia with the alleged forged signatures affixed, having been witnessed by Lee's personal assistant. Lee would then later attempt to acquire that Australian company and its Singapore and Vietnam assets for $7 (seven dollars).


After I had raised concerns with audit committees, financial institutions and regulators, I saw cover-ups unfold. I witnessed a Settlement Agreement being used to protect the well-connected and wealthy Lee, to enable him and others to avoid being held accountable for wrongdoing. As is usually the case, the complicity of other powerful people was necessary to achieve the cover-up, although I suspect this was done in part for their own self-preservation.


The cover-ups would lead to an abuse of Singapore's perceived “equitable” legal system, because others would be punished for similar offences for which Lee wasn't. It was a cover-up that in my opinion would be far more damaging to the reputation of Singapore's Government than anything which Pritam Singh or Raeesah Khan may have uttered in Parliament, had it been exposed. Something wrong had been done, no one owned up and took responsibility - they hid, dodged, spun further lies, to obfuscate and cover up the original fib, then used a Settlement Agreement - "hush money" - to make it go away. PM Lee is expecting Leader of the Opposition (LOO) Pritam Singh to accept responsibility for the actions of his MP - now PM Lee needs to lead by example and follow the advice he dispenses to others, own up and accept responsibility for the far more serious cover-up which has not only been allowed, but facilitated under his leadership.


'People forget that Nixon didn’t resign because he ordered the Watergate break-in, we still don’t know if he did. He had to resign because of the cover-up'


Lee had been the client of Edwin Tong, a partner of the law firm Allen & Gledhill (A&G) and who is now the Second Minister of Law, while the head of A&G at the time was Lucien Wong, the current Attorney General (AG). Both Mr. Tong and Mr. Wong would undoubtedly be conflicted if there was any investigation into Lee's activities, which had been left to spin out of control and ensnare others. But it wasn't just the politically linked A&G, the AG or the Second Minister of Law who would be conflicted if any investigation was undertaken into Lee's activities, Government-linked bank DBS is also a member of that illustrious group.


Lee was an influential client of DBS bank and had been able to request favours from a senior member of DBS, just as long as DBS were kept in the dark. Therefore, it was a concern that when Lee was struggling to complete the acquisition of the Australian-owned group of companies, DBS would exert significant pressure over the Australian entity's Singapore subsidiary, which would force a sale to Lee's company. DBS was appraised of the serious concerns by Australian law firm Minter Ellison, but DBS Legal sat back for eight weeks before responding to Minter Ellison, after Lee had completed his sham acquisition.



DBS Bank took eight-weeks to provide this response, being after Lee has completed his acquisition

After I published an open letter to the DBS Board, DBS CEO Piyush Gupta should have had courage to walk his own talk of brutal honesty and his leadership mantra of accountability, because DBS was conflicted. He should have addressed:

  • Why DBS sent two letters which were used to wipe between 92.2% - 96.6% off a one week-old valuation of an Australian company and defraud a shareholder of his pre-emptive rights, when DBS were fully aware that their client Lee was attempting to acquire the Australian company and its Singapore and Vietnam assets at the time?

  • Why did DBS fail to respond for eight weeks when Minter Ellison asked DBS Legal if the above two DBS letters were authentic, during which time Lee completed the sham acquisition?

  • If the DBS letters, which were littered with errors, typos and inaccuracies and had no reference numbers were authentic, why did DBS refuse to authenticate them?

  • If the DBS letters were authentic and sent for legitimate purposes why was there any need for the numerous investigations during the period 2014 - 2020?

  • Why was Legal, Compliance and Secretariat investigating Legal, Compliance and Secretariat under the guise of a legitimate whistleblower program?

The departure of senior expat DBS compliance staff who investigated the DBS letters just added to the concerns which were raised with DBS, not only by myself but by a former Singapore GLC Executive and the Editor of the Asian Sentinel. Was DBS covering up its own shortcomings or protecting its influential client Lee?


I'm not going to go into the whole host of complaints made to both the legal and regulatory bodies in relation to Lee, as they are extensive. Suffice to say that unlike others, Lee wasn't investigated, charged or stripped of his directorships for his numerous failures to disclose and other lapses. Lee failed to disclose his claim to a beneficial interest in proposed acquisitions not once, not twice but on at least four occasions. The lack of action by impotent regulators arguably failed to protect investors.


Lee and the EZRA Holdings Board had also failed to disclose a writ which had been served on two subsidiaries of EZRA Holdings, which implicated Lee in alleged forgery and the misappropriation of shares. Failing through legal moves to get all reference to the forgeries removed from the writ, Lee resorted to offering the plaintiff and his associates A$3.6m, the conditions included their agreement to endorse/ratify the four documents alleged to contain forged signatures, to hand over evidence, retract complaints made to DBS, SGX and many others, and clear Lee's personal assistant of any wrongdoing. I believe that the actions of Lee, lawyers and other parties would support the allegation that fraud had been committed.


The Commercial Affairs Division (CAD) of the Singapore Police purportedly ASSESSED numerous complaints involving Lee over a period of 18 months, but refused to INVESTIGATE. I suspect any investigation by CAD into Lee or his associates would have led to a SGX announcement, which would have exposed what others were trying so desperately to cover up. Just one week after I reached out to the AG about the lack of an investigation into Lee, CAD would claim the case was closed due to lack of evidence. CAD was lackluster in corroborating the evidence which I had provided them as a basis to investigate Lee, yet the Singapore Police and other authorities were chomping at the bit to find any evidence to charge and convict Parti Liyani, Lee Suet Fern, Li Shengwu, Terry Xu, Jolovan Wham, Pritam Singh and others.


As soon as the conflicts of AG Lucien Wong and Second Minister of Law Edwin Tong in relation to the complaints made against Lee became evident to the Singapore Police and the AGC, the Prime Minister should have immediately been asked to appoint the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to investigate. However, when I made this request directly to President Halimah Yacob as I had earlier done to Tony Tan, it would be the Singapore Police who responded on President Yacob's behalf, claiming the case was closed.


Hypothetically speaking, if evidence came to light that members of the Singapore Government were implicated in corruption, are they going to oversee their own investigations and be cleared by the very persons that they hire and fire?


Having followed the Parti Liyani case, the evidence used to investigate, charge and convict Parti Liyani was far removed from that stacked against Lee. In addition to the evidence which had been covered up that I provided, there was also evidence of lapses which were publicly available. and had been written about by others. If A&G believed there was no evidence against Lee, it made no sense that an A&G lawyer and an EMAS Group Legal Counsel flew to Perth and claimed that the documents containing the alleged forged signatures were invalid because they contained forged signatures. Just the day after, the Plaintiff was offered A$3.6m so that the allegations of forgery on the very same documents never saw the light of day.


Lee, with the aid of DBS and others, continued to raise significant funds from investors, with more than US$1.5bn of transactions announced after his wrongdoings were covered up. The EZRA Group would collapse soon after, leaving many stakeholders facing huge losses. If the contents of the writ had been made public or if CAD had announced that Lee was being INVESTIGATED, would Lee have still been chosen to head up the US$1.25bn EMAS Chiyoda JV? I suggest that would have been highly unlikely. With Chiyoda and NYK having to write off over $440m within 12 months and DBS facing losses of $637m following the collapse of the EZRA Group, who took the decision to cover up for Lee and withhold information from investors?


Ironically, despite all that has been written about Lee by others, the complaints which I made and the collapse of his three companies, Lee still remains a member of the SGX Listings Advisory Committee, of which the DBS Audit Committee Chairman is also the Chairman.


US-based lawyer Jonathan Pollard wrote something along the lines of, you cannot have a legal system that favours people who have money/power, that favours people who know members of the ruling party and are connected to the power structure. Because then the system is riddled with dysfunction and inequity, facts don’t matter, the calibre of advocacy becomes largely irrelevant, and outcomes that leave the average person speechless, confused, and shocked are par for the course.


After hearing Prime Minister Lee's speech in Parliament last week, I was speechless, confused and shocked. PM Lee claimed in his speech that if something goes wrong, there was to be no obfuscation or cover-ups, those responsible were to be held accountable and no one was to be above the law. High standards were to be steadfastly maintained and leaders had to call out wrongs when wrongs were done, mete out punishment when punishment was due and never to allow lies, half-truths and falsehoods to become accepted. There was to be contrition.


After hearing that speech, I felt that it would be remiss of me to remain silent and allow lies to continue to mislead not just Singaporeans, but also international investors. Not only are cover-ups allowed in Singapore, they are being facilitated and it would be an injustice to allow LOO Pritam Singh to continue to be persecuted, whilst the ruling party may have covered up a far greater wrong. I'm not alone in my concerns. For example, Singaporean Ms. Ten Leu-Jiun Jeannie-Marie is still trying to understand why her serious allegations of perjury against another well-connected Singapore elite have gone unheeded by the authorities! Update from Jeanne 25 February 2022


If Prime Minister Lee's speech was one of integrity and substance and the legal/justice system does not favour people who have money/power, or people who know members of the ruling party or are connected to the power structure, we should see action against those complicit in the cover-up that I have described above. Otherwise, PM Lee's speech should be seen as nothing more than political grandstanding to support the pushing forward with the fixing of the LOO Pritam Singh. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating!


“Until we have a better relationship between private performance and the public truth, as was demonstrated with Watergate, we as the public are absolutely right to remain suspicious, contemptuous even, of the secrecy and the misinformation which is the digest of our news.”

~ John le Carre



c.c.

Prime Minister - Lee Hsien Loong

Minister of Law - K Shanmugam

President - Halimah Yacob

MAS Managing Director - Ravi Menon

Asian Sentinel Editor - John Berthelsen




I'm not trying to make the Singapore Police look incompetent or to teach them how to suck eggs, but it's not too difficult a case to crack!

















DBS letters which were used in the conspiracy to defraud, which have purportedly NOT been tampered with. Incredulous that DBS would be this incompetent.














Kenneth Jeyaretnam's feedback of Lee Hsien loong's speech. An example of In the Belly and Not in the Back!


#Singapore #fraud #coverup #speakupspeakout #whistleblowers