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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Singapore's Investors Are Being Left Up Sh!t Creek Without a Paddle!

Updated: Mar 14

The collapse of the Noble Group and the disdain shown to Noble investors by Singapore regulators is not isolated and I would argue that Singapore's institutional cover-ups are becoming more damaging than the original crimes. If perpetrators are not being investigated and/or penalized, this is giving them the green light to rinse and repeat. Go forth and screw over more investors is the message I take away.

These cover-ups should be exposed with the same, if not more vigour, than the original crimes. It has been pleasing to read Arnaud Vagner's account of attempting to expose corruption in Singapore, with impotent regulators and greedy financial institutions, because it vindicates others like me who have been blowing the whistle on the same.

Cover-ups should not be encouraged nor facilitated, and board members should not be expected to owe more loyalty to Singapore Inc's reputation, than investors and the public.

At the same time Arnaud Vagner and Michael Dee were exposing the Noble fraud, I was raising red flags about members of the EMAS Group (EZRA Holdings, Triyards and EMAS Offshore). Like Noble, this was another SGX collapse that was put into Singapore's 'who cares about investors' basket. I wasn't an investor but had stumbled across this pyramid of companies when my family fell victim to a conspiracy to defraud involving a prominent Director of that group.

I didn't have the 'reach' or the skills of Iceberg Research or Michael Dee, but I didn't let that deter me and I will be forever grateful for the early support from international marine publication Splash247. For years I raised serious concerns with audit committees, financial institutions, regulators, legal bodies. But I saw no investigations of directors, executives, or management, instead I was to witness obfuscation and cover-ups. After asking that SGX appoint independent auditors, I looked on as US$2 billion of proposed transactions were being announced, whilst impotent regulators did nothing to stop investors from being fed bovine manure and kept in the dark.

It was just 12-months after the US$1.25 billion EMAS Chiyoda JV commenced, that the pyramid of companies began to fall.

"In an interview in mid-February, Lionel Lee, chief executive of Ezra and chairman of Emas Chiyoda, said he is disappointed the partnerships with Chiyoda and NYK may not even last a year. "When a marriage is in a rut, you get out of a rut together," Lee said. "If the baby is crying all night, you don't give it away the next In early February, Chiyoda and NYK said they suffered "extraordinary loss" from Emas Chiyoda's reduced value and wrote down their investments of more than $300 million and $115 million, respectively. Chiyoda said a detailed examination of the joint venture's business "found the future profitability much lower than originally anticipated."

Chiyoda and NYK's marriage with EZRA Holdings was to be a short-lived and expensive one. Someone should have had the courage to stand up and stop the doomed nuptials from taking place.

Aside from the numerous issues which I repeatedly raised including allegations of forgery, the misappropriation of shares, non-disclosures, conflicts of interest and financial incentives offered to hide allegations of fraud, information published in a series of articles by highly respected NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen, would significantly add to the concerns being raised.

The Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police refused to investigate the board member of Triyards and EZRA Holdings, claiming there was insufficient evidence. That statement appeared quite incredulous when a Singapore lawyer representing the EZRA Holdings MD, a Triyards representative, and the EMAS Group Legal Counsel had flown to Perth to attend a meeting, during which I was repeatedly told to "put up or shut up". We were told that there would be fireworks in Singapore if a writ which had been served on two EZRA Holdings subsidiaries was to be made public. But there was to be no fireworks display and no mention in the local propaganda press of the writ, because the next day a A$3.5 million offer was made to a Singaporean and his two associates, which would lead to the switch for the fireworks display being hidden from EMAS Group investors.

It was later alleged that the Singapore Police had made no attempt to contact any board member, executive or member of management of Triyards Holdings, prior to determining that after an 18-month assessment it was to be case closed due to lack of evidence. But the reality was that they didn't even need to look for the evidence, I gave it to them. That someone had been 'paid off' to retroactively endorse/ratify documents alleged to contain forged signatures affixed to legal documents on behalf of a 'struck off' entity, was arguably a criminal act,

Given my experience, I question if companies like EZRA Holdings, Triyards and others are provided with some sort of immunity from investigations/prosecutions if they operate with a politically connected person sitting on their board, or have a politically connected person imbedded within the law firms, auditing companies or financial institutions which they use?

If an unwritten 'friends with benefits' immunity package does exist, aside from that being corrupt, what choices would that leave Singapore's institutional watchmen? Do the right thing and expose the wrongdoing by stepping on the toes of well-connected elites or keep their head down, protect their handsomely buttered bread and compromise their integrity if they have any! Not much of a choice at all. Which leaves local and international investors up shit creek without a paddle, whilst empty promises continue to be made to prospective investors that Singapore has a zero tolerance to corruption, no cover-ups are allowed, and no-one is above the law.

But in every cloud, there is a silver lining for someone! In the case of the EMAS Group collapse, Singapore's PwC wears several hats. PwC is not only the auditor for Government Linked DBS, which is the financial institution with the largest exposure to the EMAS Group, but PwC was appointed Judicial Manager for the EMAS Group of companies, and more recently has been appointed joint liquidator. Not a bad gig if you can get it. Guaranteed years of fees from companies which have little if any chance of surviving, whilst investors live in desperate hope that they will be thrown a paddle or at least a life vest.

Investors were Treated No Better Than Mushrooms

In addition to the serious concerns which NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen had raised, and the hidden writ, very few were aware that the Triyards Chairman held a claim to a beneficial interest in a 20% shareholding of Strategic Marine. Just six-months prior to the Triyards Chairman, CEO and COO quietly stepping down, over $20 million was being raised to purchase assets from Australian owned Strategic Marine. The 20% shareholding was entitled to 99.8% of any dividends declared by Strategic Marine and following the sale of the Strategic Marine assets to Triyards for A$23.3 million, Strategic Marine would cease to trade claiming lack of funds. Then a Triyards subsidiary SAV Land Pty Ltd would be renamed Triyards Strategic Marine Australia Pty Ltd and would assimilate the identity of the ceased to trade company. Little did Triyards investors know that they were already on their way up to shit creek.

The Strategic (Sub) Marine Resurfaces On two occasions DBS was involved in the forced sinking (sale) of Strategic Marine Singapore from its parent company. On the first occasion, the most profitable asset of the Strategic Marine Group was stripped from the Australian parent company after DBS was alleged to have threatened to foreclose on the Singapore subsidiary unless a new investor was introduced. The new investor was an influential DBS client and this transaction was part of a conspiracy to defraud my family. Strategic Marine Singapore and Strategic Marine Vietnam would come under the control of a member of the EMAS Group, DBS client SGX listed Triyards.

DBS, along with OCBC would later use the Strategic Marine assets as part of the collateral for EZRA Holdings. I believe the writing was on the wall that members of the EMAS Group were headed for the proverbial iceberg, and prior to Triyards being placed under Judicial Management, DBS would once again force the sale of Strategic Marine Singapore, and its Australian sibling. This time the sale was to an entity within a complex structure of private Singapore companies, headed up by a BVI incorporated Heritage Quest Limited. Not sure if we should read anything into that company name!

The same day that PwC Judicial Managers were appointed, the Triyards CEO jumped from that ship to become CEO of Triyards' former asset, the resurfaced Strategic Marine Singapore, accompanied by some of his former EMAS Group colleagues.

28 May 2019 - DBS informed Triyards that it had exercised its power of sale of certain assets, including Strategic Marine Singapore to Vanguard Investment Holding Pte. Ltd for a confidential sum. It was later discovered that the purchaser is a subsidiary of BVI incorporated company Heritage Quest Limited.

17 Feb 2020 - Triyards is put under Judicial Management and its CEO resigns. On the same day, the Triyards CEO announces his appointment as the new CEO of the resurfaced Strategic Marine Singapore on LinkedIn

15 Oct 2020 - the ex-Triyards CEO states on behalf of Strategic Marine "The last 18 months have been an exciting journey as we have reconnected with many of our old customers who have welcomed us back."

The stripping of the Strategic Marine Singapore asset certainly wasn't an exciting journey for EZRA Holdings and Triyards investors who were still stuck-up shit creek without their paddles, so who was the royal 'we' that had such an exciting 18-months journey with the Triyards asset?

I really feel for the smaller EZRA, EMAS and Triyards investors, some of whom lost their hard earned CPF funds, when they had been denied information which would have enabled them to make informed decisions about their investments. Last week Triyards was put into liquidation and below I have provided slides which the now privately owned Strategic Marine Singapore has been sending out to clients. The information appears to include details of a Triyards Vietnam asset, although I could be mistaken.

Perhaps EZRA and Triyards investors/creditors should be asking what happened to the Strategic Marine Vietnam asset and if not already hived off, will that also end up owned by the same BVI incorporated Heritage Quest Limited. I have heard on the grapevine (galley news), that a prominent former Director of the EMAS Group is involved in this new Strategic Marine entity, maybe it's via yet another claim to a beneficial interest! This could be a 'Heritage Quest' for an investigative journalist or an investor to uncover, which would open a whole new can of worms!

When contacted by John Berthelsen Editor of Asian Sentinel about my claims of an institutional cover-up, lawyers acting on behalf of DBS Bank, stated I had acted with malice. Editor John Berthelsen, like others who had followed my DBS journey, found that was somewhat far-fetched. With DBS being financially exposed to the EMAS Group by an estimated $637 million, you would think that DBS CEO Piyush Gupta and his award winning risk assessment mob would be baying for the blood of those responsible for the losses DBS face, thanking me for alerting the bank and others. But as SGX had done with Noble, it was much easier for the Gold Medal Board to deflect attention and discredit me. It's the old adage, everyone welcomes whistleblowers except in their own backyard!

The Prime Minister's Office told John Berthelsen that the office has “corresponded directly with Ms. Julie O’Connor regarding her allegations, and will continue to engage her as necessary. We will not be commenting further on the matter, or responding to the questions you have posed, as it is inappropriate for us to discuss such matters with third parties.”

MAS responded ‘MAS takes all allegations of fraud seriously, and had responded to Ms. O’Connor earlier and followed up on her concerns. Our engagements with members of the public and financial institutions are confidential, and the details of such interactions are not shared with third parties.”

What are they waiting for? Even if regulators were to once again ignore the concerns raised by a foreigner, the articles prepared by NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen should have been more than adequate for a full investigation to have been undertaken. Will Singapore's regulatory watchmen only awake from their self-imposed slumber if a high-profile journalist from Bloomberg, Financial Times, Washington Post, Al Jazeera or another international publication decides to start poking around and asking awkward questions? Then as happened with Noble, we might just see Singapore Inc. jump into action with a slap on the wrist for the perpetrators.

I believe it's important that people like Arnaud Vagner, Michael Dee and others keep speaking up to expose what is as Arnaud Vagner described 'Singapore's regulatory shithole', because only when this dirt keeps getting exposed, are we likely to see any change take place and Transparency International produce a more realistic Corruption Perceptions Index. Until then, it would be safer for investors to look to other markets where errant and/or corrupt individuals are not thrown life rafts, and investors are unlikely to find themselves up shit creek without a paddle!

I now wait to see if that "continue to engage her as necessary" from the Prime Minister's Office eventuates and hopefully we uncover what institutions/individuals were complicit in

  • the dubious, claimed to be authentic DBS letters

  • a questionable Allen & Gledhill option deed

  • and Wilson Tan

all of which were used in a conspiracy to defraud. Yes, the whole web of deceit and lies reads like something out of a John Grisham novel, with some very prominent Singapore actors!

Having initially contacted the PMO in 2015, no-one can accuse me of not having patience or staying power!

“If anyone can show me, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I think the truth , which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence and self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.”

Marcus Aurelius, The Meditations

The structure of the newly emerged Strategic Marine Singapore

Acquired by Triyards in 2014 as part of a conspiracy to defraud

I didn't see any integrity and accountability under the same team at Triyards!

Is this an asset of Triyards? If so, when did Strategic Marine acquire this facility?


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