• Julie O'Connor

When Powerful People Buy Silence

Undoubtedly, Non-Disclosure Agreements have a legitimate use to protect trade secrets, but now far too often they are being abused in favour of the powerful and wealthy to enable them to avoid being held accountable for wrongdoing and sometimes criminal acts as we saw attempted in the cases of Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. These agreements often require the complicity of other powerful people to buy the silence of a victim or whistleblower. It's taboo, but call them what they are, 'hush money' agreements. Corrupt agreements, packaging bribery up in a different way. In many instances they obstruct the ability of the justice system to root out dangerous or corrupt individuals, giving them free rein to continue their activities. This then leads to the corrosion of the public’s perception that the justice system is fair and impartial, because a person who has behaved criminally can stay put with impunity or choose to move to another organization to repeat their corrupt or illegal activities. The use of such agreements to cover up allegations of criminal or corrupt acts should be outlawed. The poorest and most vulnerable cannot afford to pay to escape accountability for any criminal activities which they are alleged to have undertaken, so neither should wealthy or politically connected individuals.

Unfortunately, I can speak from personal experience. I found myself in a position where my silence was being demanded if the shares which my husband had been defrauded out of were to have any value. I had nothing else to sell but my silence and evidence. I had already followed what I thought was due process in 'clean' Singapore, by reporting the list of allegations to the boards of the companies involved, the audit committees and the financial institutions. But here I was being intimidated to sell my silence and evidence, ironically so my husband could recoup the money which he had been defrauded out of. I had to agree to protect the very person who conspired to defraud my family; and agree that the payment was not paid direct to us, but deposited into someone's purported charity account in Hong Kong.

These practices do nothing more than undermine whistleblowing, the duty to report and just encourages or forces victims to be silent. This then leads to a lack of transparency, truthfulness and accountability, and inevitably leads to new victims. It is a rotten system and if what happened to us was done with the knowledge of those in Singapore's upper echelons, then you must conclude that any cover-up of corruption is sanctioned at the top. It is Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that promises that cover-ups are not allowed, and no-one is above the law, but if individuals or entities fear retaliation from his party for speaking up, then the Prime Minister's promises are worthless.

We didn't invest in Singapore, we invested in an Australian company with a subsidiary in Singapore. We had no idea that a well-connected Singapore elite was lurking behind a Bahamas shareholder of the company, or that he was legally represented by a politically linked Singapore law firm; and could exert influence over and ask favours of a senior employee within a Singapore Government Linked bank. It was like a fox being given the key to a henhouse and the farmer turning a blind-eye knowing that a massacre would ensue. Unfortunately, we didn't see the fox... or those that would protect him until it was too late!

The moment I submitted a complaint where Lucien Wong - Singapore's Attorney General and Edwin Tong - Singapore's Second Minister of Law held a conflict of interest, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) should have immediately been called in to investigate. This would ensure that there was no risk of an abuse of power, which could lead to a cover-up to protect Government-linked DBS, politically connected law firm Allen & Gledhill and its client. Aside from the individual implicated, CPIB should have investigated what Allen & Gledhill, DBS and others knew of the conspiracy to defraud and why "hush money" was permitted to be offered to hide allegations of a pattern of fraud just prior to US$2bn of proposed transactions being announced by SGX listed entities headed up by Allen & Gledhill's client. The significant financial losses being faced by many following the transactions was a disaster waiting to happen. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It is unclear whether Allen & Gledhill prepared the documents which were used in the conspiracy to defraud or if the originals were tampered with by another party. However, Allen & Gledhill did facilitate the agreement which would hide the allegations made against their client. Some might say that Allen & Gledhill, and former Allen & Gledhill lawyers i.e. the Attorney General and the Second Minister of Law had a vested interest in ensuring the can of worms I was trying so desperately to get the authorities to open, never saw the light of day and arguably they wielded the power to do just that.

I didn't forge any signatures; I didn't conspire to defraud anyone or plan to manipulate the share price of an SGX listed entity. I didn't offer money which would see a writ retracted which implicated someone in a pattern of fraud. It was Allen & Gledhill's client who was allegedly embroiled in all that, not me.

“When we discover wrongdoing, we do not hesitate to act. We will not allow any cover up, even when it is awkward or embarrassing for the Government”. “When this Government makes a promise, we mean it and keep it”.

~Lee Hsien Loong

Board members of SGX listed entities, audit committees, DBS, regulators and legal bodies surely had to be wilfully blind not to see what had taken place? Despite the evidence provided, during an 18-month assessment no-one from the Commercial Affairs Department contacted the board members, executives, or management of the SGX listed entity which benefitted from the conspiracy to defraud, before claiming that there was insufficient evidence to investigate.

"Buying Silence" is rarely undertaken without leaving victims in its wake, that is the whole point of the secrecy. Due to those who were complicit in the conspiracy to defraud us, and the many others required to look the other way, we were defrauded out of our total investment. Yet, PM Lee Hsien Loong continues to make public promises of no cover-ups are allowed and no-one is above the law, which raises the question if his messages are providing a false sense of security to potential investors?

If these type of agreements/coverups are being condoned by the Singapore Government to keep allegations of criminal acts involving politically connected elites hidden, then that should not just be a concern for Singapore citizens, but also international investors. In his book titled 'Singapore's Avaricious Oligarchy: The Story of Singapore's Despicable But Desperate Ruling Top 1%', Dr. Christopher John Brickhill asked the question "Is your money safe in the $2.2 trillion Singapore banking system?" His response was "No! It is too small to ensure safety. There is no rule of law, and the judges are corrupt and beholden to the Lee oligarchy." He also went on to claim that "When push comes to shove, the PAP will look after itself and not foreign investors nor depositors." Given my personal experience over the past seven-years, that statement does not instill confidence in me and nor should it in others. My family were defrauded, and it went uninvestigated, was that because we are foreigners and Allen & Gledhill's client is a politically connected, wealthy Chinese Singaporean?

If no-one is above the law in Singapore, then who is responsible for the cover-up of the allegations which I reported and that went uninvestigated? Should DBS, Allen & Gledhill, the regulators, or the legal bodies be held accountable and have to right that wrong? Or is Dr. Brickhill correct in his summation that the People's Action Party only look after their own with no thought to anyone else?

Many should be hanging their heads in shame for looking the other way and not having the courage to stand up against the cronyism monster. Despite all this talk by Singapore's business leaders of accountability, buck stops with me, empathy, honesty, integrity etc, not one person has said SORRY for what they have put my family through! As they say, talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.

cc Lee Hsien Loong

Some of the conditions I would have to agree to

Agree to ratify or endorse the four documents alleged to contain forged signatures

Just one of the many retraction letters I was requested to provide

#Singapore #whistleblowers #speakupspeakout #fraud #coverup #corruption