“I was cheated of my hard-earned savings” – Elderly Singaporeans upset at Singapore authorities over SGX-listed commodity giant collapse

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Elderly Singaporeans have lamented that they have lost their savings after commodity giant Noble Group Ltd collapsed and have expressed anger at Singapore regulators like SGX and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) for failing to protect shareholders.

This, after the conglomerate that was once valued at $12-billion lost billions as it accumulated immense debt and losses. Besides being accused of cheating investors with accounting tricks, Noble Group has also been accused of inflating its profits with a report by Iceberg Research highlighting allegations of severe irregularities.

Despite denying these claims, the once profitable giant has been pushed to making a do-or-die deal where investors see no other viable option than to vote for a debt-for-equity restructuring that redistributes control from existing stockholders into the hands of senior creditors.

As Noble Group’s difficulties mount, investors have turned on Singapore regulators for failing to better protect shareholders from such crises

71-year-old ex-civil servant Francis Tay told international publication Bloomberg that he lost S$50,000 of his retirement savings after SGX-listed Noble Group imploded. Questioning how Singapore authorities could have let down shareholders like him, Tay lamented:

“I was cheated of my hard-earned savings. How can a giant company collapse? What message does that send to the world about Singapore’s reputation?

Tay added: “The SGX is a policeman without a gun. Layman investors like us only have access to on-the-surface information, such as company releases or news reports.”

Another elderly shareholder, 61-year-old Lisa Ng revealed to Bloomberg that she lost about 90 per cent of her investment in the commodity giant. Ng lamented: “I do wish that I had gotten out when Iceberg had come out with its critique of Noble’s accounting. I thought that Noble, being a blue-chip share, wouldn’t be like what they claimed.”

Echoing some of the concerns investors have raised, NUS School of Business professor Mak Yuen Teen said, “Questions ought to be asked about whether the SGX board has adequately prioritized investor protection.”

In response to the uproar that it did not act to protect Singapore investors, SGX released a summary of its interactions with Noble Group over the past 3 years. SGX said:

“We required the issuer to appoint a Singapore auditor to do an independent review, and took a series of actions to ensure the issuer’s auditor addressed the issues of concern in every single year-end audit since FY2015.

“Notwithstanding that both the audits and review were clean, we continue to do our part to investigate matters that are within our remit. We are committed to holding issuers and professionals responsible for their actions and opinions. If there is any evidence of wrongdoing, we will refer it to the appropriate authorities.”

On its part, MAS said that it would investigate Noble Group if SGX’ investigations uncover breaches of the law: “MAS will thoroughly investigate potential breaches of the law that have been referred to us by SGX, should SGX’s investigations uncover breaches of the law. MAS will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action if our own investigations uncover any violations of our regulations.”