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Hin Leong founder OK Lim convicted in US$111.7 million cheating, forgery trial

Former oil tycoon Lim Oon Kuin found guilty of 3 charges totaling US$111.7M in cheating, forgery trial. Despite claims of reduced activity, he remained the ‘big boss’ of Hin Leong, instructing staff to forge documents to deceive HSBC, as per court findings.



SINGAPORE: Former oil tycoon Lim Oon Kuin, founder of the now-defunct oil trader Hin Leong Trading, was found guilty on Friday (10 May) of three criminal charges following a 62-day trial at the state courts.

The 82-year-old former billionaire, commonly known as OK Lim is expected to be sentenced on 3 October, with his bail of S$4 million extended until then.

Two of the charges against Mr Lim are related to cheating HSBC, while the third charge accuses him of instigating a contracts executive at Hin Leong to forge a false document for fraudulent purposes, with the total sum involved amounting to US$111.7 million.

Facing a total of 130 charges for forgery and cheating, Mr Lim could face jail terms of between four and 10 years and/or fines.

Additionally, abetting in the forgery of a valuable security carries a maximum jail term of 15 years and a fine.

The judgement was rendered in the state courts by Judge Toh Han Li, with Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong leading the prosecution, and Lim being represented by a legal team from Davinder Singh Chambers.

Despite the extensive charges totalling US$2.7 billion, Lim is currently being tried on only three of them.

During the delivery of the oral judgement in court on Friday, Judge Toh stated that Lim’s assertion of reduced activity at Hin Leong since 2010 contradicted the evidence provided by witnesses called upon by the prosecution.

These witnesses included former Hin Leong employees like Lim’s former personal assistant, Serene Seng, and former contracts executive, Freddy Tan.

Judge Toh observed that Lim testified in court that Hin Leong’s staff continued to seek his guidance and his personal involvement in instructing, conducting, and negotiating deals.

“I find that until the time he stepped down, the accused continued to be the ‘big boss’ of Hin Leong,” the judge said.

Key issues in the case, according to Judge Toh, revolved around Lim’s level of involvement in Hin Leong’s matters and his statements to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

Mr Lim was the managing director and 75 % shareholder of Hin Leong Trading at the time of the offences in March 2020.

Judge finds Lim’s claim of reduced activity at Hin Leong “did not accord” with evidence provided by witnesses 

Other crucial considerations included determining who directed Tan to create documents for the fictitious transaction with China Aviation Oil (Singapore) (CAO), identifying the individual who instructed Hin Leong staff to submit the discounting application for the bogus Unipec transaction, and assessing whether HSBC was misled into disbursing assets to Hin Leong based on these transactions.

During the trial, one of Lim’s primary arguments was that he had delegated most of his responsibilities at Hin Leong to a select group of trusted employees since 2010, including Seng.

Lim asserted that these employees were responsible for fabricating or forging documents needed by Hin Leong to secure financing from HSBC for the two fictitious deals.

Throughout the trial, Lim’s legal team attempted to highlight inconsistencies in Seng’s testimony and questioned her credibility as a witness.

Judge Toh remarked that while Seng, in her capacity as Lim’s personal assistant, may have interacted with banks occasionally, this did not imply her involvement in fabricating documents to obtain financing from lenders.

The judge expressed confusion over why Seng would engage in such activities, particularly in the absence of a genuine contract with CAO.

However, the judge acknowledged that Seng had not provided a complete account of events in her statements to the CAD or in the documents submitted to the High Court for the civil trial.

Mr Lim, along with his two children and Seng, is currently involved in a civil suit in the High Court, where liquidators from PwC and Hin Leong’s top creditor HSBC are collectively suing the four individuals for US$3.5 billion. The trial is ongoing.

“It should be noted that her evidence in court, while implicating the accused, also implicated herself,” Judge Toh said.

Her statements were considered damaging to her position in the civil trial, and her previous statements to the CAD did not fully absolve Lim of blame.

Judge Toh also highlighted that although HSBC’s checks regarding the CAO and Unipec transactions were not entirely in line with the bank’s internal procedures, the lender would not have approved the discounting applications had they been aware of the fictitious nature of the underlying contracts.

The prosecution is expected to present their submissions for sentencing by 5 July, with the defence responding by 30 August. Replies are anticipated to be completed by 20 September.

The ascension of OK Lim’s oil dynasty

Mr Lim was born in 1942 in Putian village in China’s Fujian province. Despite attending primary school in Singapore for three years, he discontinued his education after Secondary 2 due to financial difficulties at home.

His father, a fisherman supporting seven children, struggled to afford school fees. Initially, Mr Lim entered the workforce by assisting a supplier who provided oil to his father’s fishing boat.

After gaining experience in the oil industry, he established a small family venture called Hin Leong, supplying oil to fishing boats and villages.

The business thrived through dedicated service, expanding to supply diesel to power generators, delivery firms, and factories.

Over time, the family diversified, establishing multiple related companies involved in various aspects of the oil industry, including storage, ship management, and bunkering.

This network of companies operated collaboratively, providing support to one another as needed, reflecting a tightly-knit family business model.

Additionally, Mr Lim’s children became shareholders in Hin Leong, further cementing the family’s involvement in the enterprise.

However, Mr Lim relinquished his position as managing director of Hin Leong and other affiliated firms in March 2020.

Subsequently, on 21 April 2020, the Singapore Police Force launched an investigation into Hin Leong, culminating in forgery charges against Mr Lim on 14 August.

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Is it true in SG a $3B money launderer got only 13mths of jail term? Is there a shortening of the term if behavior is good?
How does $3B crime compared to this comparatively tiny sum? Are criminals emboldened by short jail term?

One down for Bayi Singh another one to go…HUAT AH!😆😆😆🤣🤣🤣

Is he going to be penalised like each of the Fujian Gang?