Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Blast from the Past: Pan-Electric

In 1985 Pan-Electric Industries collapsed, causing lots of mayhem especially for its 5,500 shareholders who lost all their money in the company. Article from Wikipedia:

"Pan-Electric Industries was a Singapore-based company that specialised in marine salvage work, and had 71 subsidiary companies, including hotel and property interests, with a market capitalization of S$230 million. The company collapsed in 1985 due to unsettled forward contracts, forcing the stock exchanges of both Singapore and Malaysia to shut down for three days. At its demise, the company had a total debt of S$480 million, and all its shares held by 5,500 shareholders were found to be worthless overnight. As of 2000, it remains the largest corporate collapse in Singapore's history, and the only instance where the Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) had to close. The Malaysian Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange was also forced to close for three days as a result.

In the aftermath of the collapse, key people in the company such as Peter Tham, Tan Kok Liang, and Tan Koon Swan were prosecuted and given varying jail sentences. The collapse of the company shook public confidence in the SES, causing prices of stocks to plunge. New securities laws were introduced in March 1986 to ensure that stockbroking firms can protect themselves against credit risks."

An amount of S$230 million corrected for inflation would now be worth about RM 1.3 Billion.

On (the excellent) website stocktaleslot "Bulls and Bears, Tales of the Zoo" a much longer description, also indicating the political consequences for Malaysia, since Tan Koon Swan was the President of the MCA.

It all looked like history, although very important, until suddenly the following news appeared on The Edge:

Koon Swan not "saying anything soon" on Singapore's wrongful prosecution:

Businessman Tan Koon Swan, the president of  the MCA in the early 1980s and founder of Multi-Purpose Holdings, told  theedgemalaysia.com he would not "say anything soon" on the mistake by  the Singapore government in prosecuting him during the Pan-El crisis in  the mid-1980s.

"I don't know whether I will do something. I am  overseas now. I will probably return tomorrow and maybe I will meet the  press then. But don't write anything that will put me in trouble. It's  very unlikely I will say anything soon," Tan said from Hainan when  contacted on his hand-phone.

In the just-published book "Glenn Knight, The Prosecutor",  the writer Glenn Knight — who was the famous prosecutor then —  confesses to having wrongly prosecuted Tan in 1985 and in the chapter on  the Pan El crisis, he mentions his apology to Tan Khoon Swan — a fact  hitherto unknown for 27 years.

Glenn slapped Tan with 15 charges  after the collapse of Pan-El Industries which caused the Singapore stock  exchange to halt trading for three days. Among others, Tan was alleged  to have committed criminal breach of trust (CBT) and share manipulation,  and a guilty finding sent him to Singapore's Changi Prison for 18  months.

In his book, Glenn has suggested Tan to seek "pardon"  from the Singapore President to wipe out his criminal record so that it  would mean he had not been convicted of any wrong-doing legally in this case, which also rocked the Malaysia stock exchange.

In response  to this, Tan declined to commit himself to any action. He said: "No, I  am not going to say anything." He also declined to say whether he would  sue the Singapore government for compensation for ruining his reputation  and his future.

The incident not only forced Tan to quit as MCA  president but also the collapse of his huge Malaysian-Singapore business  empire which comprised at least three listed companies then.

And  posting bail for Tan while waiting for the trial of the century was  Robert Kuok, Malaysia's richest man. Due to this high profile  prosecution, Glenn was awarded the Public Administration Gold Medal by  the Singapore government. But in 1990, Glenn himself was charged for CBT  and later jailed in Singapore.

The wrongful prosecution of Tan  was splashed on the front pages of two leading Chinese newspapers — the Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew on Monday.

Nanyang said Glenn told Tan about his mistake in prosecuting him apologised to Tan when they met at a function two years ago.

Quoting a unnamed aide of Tan, Nanyang also said Tan has been advised to be cautious in his comment.

In previous interviews with this writer, Tan did say that he felt "cheated" during the Pan-El crisis.

He  said he was advised by "people in power" to admit guilt to get a light  sentence which would amount to a fine, but he was horrified to hear the  jail term when the verdict was read out in court.

But as a born-again Christian, he had tried to forgive all those who had caused hardship and agony to him.

Tan  is now a property developer with a lot of developments in China. He has  been made an "honorary citizen" of Hainan for his contributions there.

It still is an intriguing case, and this might be another, new twist in the story. However, details are still patchy (why does Glenn Knight think that Tan was wrongfully prosecuted?), so we have to wait for more news to draw any conclusions.

PS: another article in The Star, with a rather twisted logic that is hard for anybody (except legal people) to understand. Anyhow, I don't like the word "stealing" in the next sentence:

“Chief Justice Yong was of the opinion that the section I had charged Koon Swan with was wrong in law for we could not charge a person for stealing from a company because as a director, it was not a breach of the law in that sense,” he wrote.

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