Kiasu mustn’t be a serious character flaw

John Soh Chee Wen

I just had to be present at the May 30-June 1 committal hearing of John Soh Chee Wen (pic) at the Singapore High Court.

He faces 189 charges of being the mastermind of the penny stock collapse in October 2013.

The authorities credited Soh for the S$8 billion drop in market value within a three-day period.

From all the information gleamed, Soh had surrendered his passport to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) in April 2014 to demonstrate his cooperation in their investigations.

However, his request for the return of his passport to visit his ailing mother and to attend the marriage of his elder son in February 2016 was denied.

The principal reason was that CAD was finalising their investigations and charges would be levied real soon.

Soh’s counsel posited that with the close working relationship between the Singaporean and Malaysian authorities, it was virtually impossible for him to abscond. The CAD’s objections prevailed.

It was on record that he had by then given more than 800 pages in statements from more than 3,000 questions.

He was eventually charged in November 2016 and was remanded with no indication of the period of remand. Eighteen months later, on May 30, Soh was brought to court for this three-day hearing.

Singaporeans are identified with the “kiasu” moniker primarily to describe their highly competitive DNA. In situations where “competition” isn’t necessary we just laugh it off, unlike in Malaysia where we boo-boo and use “Malaysia Boleh” to make light.

In this Soh affair, I think the authorities involved i.e. Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), CAD and their prosecutor are not doing Singapore any favours.

The rule of law is being thwarted and it looks as if what is not expressly disallowed becomes a “can do”.

Speculation is that the trial would be in October and proceedings could last between 12 and 18 months. It could be as long as four years years in Changi Prison before we hear the court verdict, excluding the three and a half years already spent under “country arrest” (passport withheld).

Put plainly – those authorities believe he is guilty, so they retained his passport till they can gather sufficient evidence.

They couldn’t get enough evidence so they remanded him until such time. Then they proffer 189 charges (spray shot) hoping at least one will stick. What if everything fails? Soh would have been incarcerated for nearly seven years!

Come on MAS, CAD and AGC, might is not right!

Singapore’s honour demands a “just win”. Kiasu musn’t be relegated into a serious character flaw.