SINGAPORE (Nov 3): It began as a budding friendship between two men, forged over after-work suppers of prata and teh tarik.
But the two, both well-versed in the finer aspects of finance, soon found themselves wading deeper into murky waters, filled with enigmatic offshore entities and millions of dollars in “secret profits”.
Now, one of the men finds himself in the dock as the accused — with his friend testifying against him.
Former BSI wealth planner Yeo Jiawei, who worked for Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, is on trial on four charges of tampering with witnesses, including his friend, Samuel Goh Sze Wei.
Goh on Thursday testified in court as the prosecution’s sixth witness.
Yeo faces seven other charges related to money laundering, which will be heard in April next year.
Over the past two days, the court had already heard from Yeo’s former supervisor at BSI Bank, Kevin Swampillai.
Swampillai had testified that Yeo and himself had created entities to siphon off “secret profits” between 2012 and 2014, behind the back of their former employer, Swiss private bank BSI.
Goh got involved when he introduced Bridge Partners International Management (Cayman) Limited (BPIM) to BSI. Yeo then roped him in to help hold an intermediary entity called Bridge Global Managers Inc (BGM).
BGM was used to re-route money creamed off from 1MDB into two other entities — Bridgerock Investment Inc (BR) and GTB Investment Ltd (GTB). Yeo and Swampillai were the beneficial owners of BR and GTB, respectively.
For his involvement, Goh received at least US$300,000.
“[Yeo] came across as very intellectual, very smart, very self-confident and knows his work very well; he’s always directive, very clear, and an expert at what he does,” said Goh, a CFA-qualification holder who is now unemployed.
“He is careful with his investments — a shrewd investor, and quick and good with numbers,” Goh added.
Goh said the Yeo was already taking steps to cover their tracks even before the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) started active investigations. For example, when instructing Goh’s bank in Hong Kong to transfer the funds, Yeo told Goh to indicate that these were “investment fees” instead of “referral fees”.
“I’m not certain why,” said Goh, when asked if he knew why Yeo gave this instruction.
In late October last year, Yeo informed Goh that he had been questioned by the CAD. Yeo claimed that his ex-colleague at BSI, Yak Yew Chee, had tried to “put all the blame” on him.
Yeo advised Goh to take a job overseas if he could. But Goh declined.
“The only [thing that] came to my mind was it was very inconvenient,” Goh told the court.
Goh explained that while being interviewed by CAD was not a good experience, he believed that he had done nothing wrong.
“I asked [Yeo] again [if] anything with the fiduciary fund structure is wrong,” said Goh. “He said ‘no’.”
'We die, we die together'
However, things turned tense between the two in March this year.
On March 16 and 17, Goh was questioned by investigators from the CAD. Yeo, who was also questioned, saw Goh at the police station. After they left the station, Yeo tried to contact Goh.
But Goh did not pick up his friend’s call as CAD investigation officers had instructed him not to. Two days later, on March 19, Yeo made an unannounced visit to Goh’s house.
“He wanted to explain what’s happening, that there’s a misunderstanding with CAD and wanted to apologise,” said Goh.
Yeo offered to buy Goh a pre-paid SIM card — separate from their primary mobile lines — so that the two could continue to keep in touch. Goh declined.
Instead, Goh chose to buy one himself.
“There was a construction site near where my mom stayed, where I'm staying, and I procured it from one of the construction workers there,” Goh told the court.
And the two men did keep in touch.
Together with Swampillai, Yeo and Goh met at around 10pm on March 27 at the Swiss Club. Goh claimed to have done so “reluctantly”, as he knew it was against the instructions of the CAD officers.
During the meeting, Goh alleged that Yeo said all three of them had to “hold hands” by concocting an “investment story” that the money flowing from BGM into BR and GTB had come from Goh, and was investments in Indonesian real estate, shares, and even Yeo’s father’s company.
“I remained quiet throughout. I thought that doesn’t sound very credible,” said Goh.
According to Goh, the meeting between the trio ended with Yeo saying something to the effect of: “We die, we die together.”
Goh and Yeo shared a car ride immediately after the meeting. It was during this journey that Yeo told Goh: “This was the best solution, the only solution”. Yeo also reminded Goh not to disclose that the March 27 meeting took place.
However, on April 5, Goh was interviewed again by the CAD. This was when he decided to sing on Yeo.
Goh claimed to reveal “the truth” to investigators, instead of the “investment story” which Yeo had allegedly spun.
“What do you mean by ‘truth’?” Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng asked Goh in court.
Goh replied that the money transferred to BR and GTB were referral fees, and not investments done on behalf of BGM.
On further questioning by DPP Tan, Goh said that these transfers were neither his money nor his investments.
In his cross examination, Yeo’s lawyer Philip Fong tried to portray Goh as an active participant in the whole scheme, and had specifically earned referral fees for his role.
Fong asked if Goh could recall a transaction in 2014, where Yeo had sought Goh’s assistance to set up a fund for Aabar Investments PJS. Goh replied that he knew the client as Aabar, but was unfamiliar with its full name.
Back in July this year, a BVI entity with the same name – Aabar Investments PJS Limited – featured in a complaint filed by the US Department of Justice.
The US authorities noted that, in 2012, 1MDB officials and others had diverted more than 40% from net proceeds of two bond offerings, or some US$1.367 billion, into an account belonging to this Aabar.
The bond offerings were guaranteed by both 1MDB and International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), an investment fund wholly-owned by the government of Abu Dhabi.
Following the DOJ complaint, IPIC clarified that the BVI entity is not IPIC’s affiliate, even though it bore a similar name to Aabar Investments PJS, a legitimate IPIC subsidiary.
Goh said he knew about Aabar from Yeo.
According to Swampillai’s earlier testimony, Yeo worked for Low Taek Jho, and purportedly drew a salary of some S$500,000 a year.
The hearing continues on Monday, Nov 7.