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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

The Prosecution of an Editor Should Reignite the Debate on Singapore's System of Justice

Updated: Feb 24

The irony of the situation is not lost on me. The Attorney General Chambers (AGC) has forged ahead and taken legal action against Terry Xu the Editor of The Online Citizen for sharing MY letter, when the letter was questioning how equitable the system of justice was in Singapore. I had spoken out after a client of the Attorney General's (AG) former law firm ["client"], amongst many other errant activities, had offered me and others a financial incentive which would hide allegations of fraud from investors. The irony being that the client would be protected, and Terry Xu would be persecuted.

Aside from my own experience of the Singapore 'system', I looked on at what I saw as the persecution of Indonesian maid Parti Liyani after she threatened to expose the actions of her elite employer (who just happened to be a former colleague of the AG). I also saw how Li Shengwu and Lee Suet Fern were persecuted after their father/husband Lee Hsien Yang spoke up about the abuse of power by a former client of the AG, i.e. current Prime Minister. It's fairly evident that Prosecutorial Discretion is a powerful tool and therefore in situations where the AG is believed to be conflicted, of course there needs to be the utmost scrutiny. Especially where outcomes leave the average person, speechless and shocked because the legal system appears skewed in favour of those connected to Singapore's power structure. After all, it's expected that the lodestar for the AGC is to serve the public interest and that integrity is to guide the conduct of proceedings from start to end. There are to be no benefits for friends.

From online feedback, many Singaporeans appeared shocked that Indonesian maid Parti Liyani was convicted of theft based on the perjured evidence of a family member of her elite employer, before being acquitted on appeal. Others were left speechless when the AGC chased Li Shengwu to the US for a statement he made to friends in a private Facebook post, when similar comments have been publicly made by Freedom House and others. A Queen's Counsel stated in relation to action taken against Lee Suet Fern that the findings of the Court of Three Judges were “legally unsound” and that it was a “serious error” of judgment to find Lee Suet Fern guilty of professional misconduct, and he wasn't alone in his belief.

Now if the AG believed that I had done anything wrong by raising the above concerns in the open letter which I addressed to the Chief Justice, someone from the Singapore Police or the AGC could have reached out to me. Even though they have my contact details, no-one made any attempt to contact me. Instead, Terry Xu had his laptop and mobile phone confiscated and he was investigated. No collusion would be found between Terry Xu and I, because none existed. The AGC demanded that Terry Xu remove my letter which he had shared and when he refused, Terry Xu would be charged with Contempt of Court.

Demonstrating the inequity in the legal system, Terry Xu wasn't alleged to have forged any signatures, he didn't fail to disclose related party transactions or material information to the market on a timely basis. Terry Xu didn't make false or misleading disclosures or fail to discharge directors’ duties. There are no questions in relation to events involving Terry Xu's companies which lured investors into buying notes, convertible bonds and shares. Terry Xu didn't enlist a friend in a conspiracy to defraud, and there was no suggestion of insider trading. DBS letters weren't used to wipe up to 96.6% off a company that Terry Xu was attempting to acquire. Terry Xu didn't offer to pay me and others A$3.5 million to handover evidence or retract the complaints made to audit committees, financial institutions or regulators. Terry Xu just shared a letter in which I questioned the inequity of Singapore's legal system. A letter I wrote because the client implicated in the above errant activities wasn't even investigated.

It's a travesty of justice that Terry Xu has been charged. An independent party, if one can be found, should be questioning why the former client of the AG's law firm, a former client of the Second Minister of law wasn't even investigated and has walked away scot free, because it's these acts that call into question the inequity of the legal system, not Terry Xu's sharing of a letter. The scandal should not be that I wrote the letter and Terry Xu shared it, but how many knew about the cover-up which took place to protect the client.

This year Terry Xu was charged with Contempt of Court and the Board of Government linked DBS bank through its lawyers publicly claimed that I had acted with malice, when what I did was to expose the red flags that others had tried so desperately to hide. Ironically, it wasn't just me, aside from the series of articles written by Mak Yuen Teen, a former MD of Temasek would repeatedly raise red flags direct with DBS Legal and a DBS Board Member in support of the complaints which I had made.

If the DBS Board believe that I acted with malice, perhaps stakeholders including Temasek, should be asking the DBS board members to explain the actions of DBS Bank:

  • It is indisputable that two DBS letters were used in a conspiracy to defraud to wipe between 92.2% - 96.6% off a one-week-old valuation of a company a DBS client was attempting to acquire.

  • It is indisputable that prior to the transaction completing DBS Legal was advised of the use of the DBS letters and asked by Australian lawyers if the DBS letters were authentic.

  • It is indisputable that DBS Legal took almost eight-weeks to respond to the law firm and even then, refused to authenticate the letters. During this period the transaction completed.

  • It is indisputable that a writ was served on two subsidiaries of a SGX listed entity to which DBS was heavily financially exposed and the writ contained allegations of forgery which implicated the client.

  • It is indisputable that the client offered three individuals A$3.5 million with conditions including that the writ which implicated him be retracted and that evidence and letters of retraction of complaints made be handed over. These included the DBS letters.

  • It is indisputable that the writ was not made public prior to US$2 billion of proposed transactions being announced, some of which involved DBS.

  • It is indisputable that Singapore's local press published that DBS had the largest financial exposure to the group of companies headed up by the client when it collapsed.

  • It is indisputable that DBS Legal stipulated that a whistleblower submission made to DBS could not include any reference to the DBS letters.

  • It is indisputable that I wrote to two DBS Group Heads of Financial Crime, two DBS Group Company Secretaries and two PwC Partners in Charge of the DBS Audit with my concerns, and for whatever reason all of them subsequently left their roles.

  • It is undisputable that although I have asked DBS who is responsible for auditing what is supposed to be an independent whistleblower program at DBS, there has been no response.

There has recently been much furore over the US$275 million red flags that Singapore's Temasek either missed or ignored during their eight-month due diligence of FTX. But there was a scandal much closer to home which was being hidden in plain sight. The EZRA Holdings group of companies headed up by the client went on to collapse after Chiyoda and NYK were forced to write down US$336 million and US$114 million respectively and DBS, OCBC and UOB were left facing financial exposures to the Group of some US$452 million, US$213 million and US$117 million respectively. That's aside from the losses faced by the companies and their Singaporean and international investors. In addition to the many red flags which I raised, others including NUS Professor Mak Yuen Teen and Baird Maritime have written articles on the collapse of this group, which leave many questions to be answered.

When Singapore's Parliament next sits, a full investigation into the collapse of the EZRA Holdings group of companies should be demanded. Amongst many concerns that need to be raised, is why regulators and financial institutions were impotent when red flags clearly existed? And more importantly who facilitated or knew about the financial payment (hush money) which would hide the allegations of fraud from local and international investors prior to the collapse of the group?

Stalwarts for the truth do not allow coverups, and they don't drive messengers out of the country to hide dirty laundry!

#Singapore #JusticeMatters #whistleblowers #fraud #coverup #PressFreedom

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