Media Development Authority (MDA) trumpeted in its 2005/2006 Annual Report that the year 2005 was one of its “busiest and most fruitful years<…>we courted overseas partners and collaborators, set off towards a digital future…”
Dr Tan Chin Nam, the Chairman of Media Development Authority at that time, rolled out the Media 21 Blueprint, and set out to put in place the nuts-and-bolts of the blueprint quickly by cozying up to foreign partners. One of the more prominent foreign players MDA chose to work with in a major way is RGM.
RGM was founded by UK-born Robyn Gardiner in 1982. She quickly built it into Australia’s go-to agency, because its stable of Aussie actors made it big in the US movie industry. By the late 1990s, Gardiner represented the cream of Australian talent with 300 actors, directors, writers and voice artists in her books. In 1998, Indian producer Devesh Chetty joined the conglomerate to assist in developing RGM’s artist management business. He soon became the Chief Executive of the company.
In 2005, MDA to jumpstart its Media 21 Blueprint, backed the Australia-based media talent agency to move to Singapore. The Government’s media regulatory authority was so exited about the Aussie media company headed by Robyn Gardner and Devesh Chetty that it devoted two pages in its 2005/2006 Annual Report to them and their company.
MDA gave RGM Entertainment $2.5 million loan in 2005 so that it could set-up base here. In 2008, MDA gave RGM another $10 million for a film production fund. Two years later, MDA established two agreements with RGM as seed funds for two major film studios – $5 million to 20th Century Fox and $10 million to Sony Pictures Entertainment.
MDA explained at that time that the seeding of multi-million dollars to firms like RGM was necessary to bring movie businesses into Singapore and “make Singapore a vibrant global media city”.
If it had done its homework however, it would have discovered that Devesh Chetty was involved in another scandal in 1999 when he was the general manager of Scanbox Asia. Devesh allegedly put together a financing deal with Comerica Bank in the United States that left Scanbox Asia Australia in grave danger of insolvency.
Writing on the scandal, Pierpont, an Australian publication said:
“The Scanbox empire was left as a heap of dust and rubble. The Danish parent went into the hands of its bankers in late 1999. Two years later its founder, Anders Jensen, was convicted in unrelated proceedings alleging market manipulation, embezzlement and tax fraud.”
In 2004 Devesh established RGM Entertainment, becoming sole director and a major shareholder through his private holding company Montrose Ltd. MDA gave a total of $27.5 million to RGM Entertainment and RGM Group, of which Devesh was the managing director.
In 2012 when MDA was attempting to recover the lost millions from RGM Group, the company attempted to separate itself from RGM Entertainment in the court action. MDA however argued that they shared the same offices and worked together. Both companies are now in liquidation.
MDA accused Devesh of forging emails, issuing a cheque that bounced and misleading the organisation over the whereabouts of its funds, and yesterday (Jun 10), 48-year-old Devesh was sentenced to 22 weeks (five-and-a-half months) jail by the High Court.
There were no suggestions that Ms Gardiner is guilty of any fraud. She returned to Australia in the year 2012 when her husband, Australian actor Robert Hughes, was charged with 11 child sex offences.
It is unclear if MDA has been able to recover any of the lost millions it had given to RGM.
More than 10 years after MDA misjudged a foreign-talent agency and pumped tens-of-millions of dollars to make it viable, only to fail miserably, Singapore’s dream of being an Asian hub for big budget films remains frozen.
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