Singapore jails ex-CFO for 20 years for defrauding over dozen banks

Singapore jails ex-CFO for 20 years for defrauding over dozen banks
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(Jan 17): Lim Beng Kim, a former chief financial officer of commodities firm Agritrade International Pte Ltd, was sentenced to 20 years' jail in Singapore for defrauding over a dozen banks and causing almost US$500 million (RM2.17 billion) in losses.

The sentencing took into account mitigating factors outlined by Lim’s lawyers, namely that she didn’t do it for personal greed and she wasn’t the mastermind, district judge Kow Keng Siong said on Tuesday (Jan 17). Lim’s prison term will be backdated to September 2021. She pleaded guilty in December. 

Agritrade, whose businesses spanned palm oil and coal mining, is among a string of failures in Singapore’s commodities sector in recent years. Lenders are struggling to reclaim loans, alleging they were tricked by forged documents and by traders pledging cargoes to multiple banks. 

The biggest fallout is Hin Leong Trading Pte Ltd that spectacularly collapsed in 2020 around the same time as Agritrade, owing banks about US$3.5 billion. Companies depending on bank lending facilities faced a liquidity crunch, as commodity prices plunged due to the Covid-19 pandemic, disrupting trade and reducing the value of assets pledged against the loans. 

Lim deceived 16 financial institutions into believing that financial statements for Agritrade and its units were audited, a fact which she knew to be false, according to the charge sheets. She also instructed her subordinate to insert a copy of the auditor’s signature into a document that falsely purported to be the audited statements. 

These documents were required by the lenders to assess how much credit they would extend to Agritrade. As a result, the 16 financial institutions — including ING Bank NV, Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank), Natixis, MUFG Bank and Commerzbank AG — disbursed at least US$586.5 million to Agritrade and its units. 

Agritrade defaulted on these loans, and the total loss suffered by the financial institutions amounted to about US$469.1 million. 

The company has also faced allegations of fraud directed against chief executive officer Ng Xinwei and his father Ng Say Peck. Police investigations against the two men are ongoing.