Ng Yu Zhi, 33, possessed all the trappings of a wildly popular trader: a Rolodex brimming with wealthy customers, a three-story villa in a posh Singapore neighborhood, and a Pagani Huayra supercar reportedly valued at more than $5 million.
Prosecutors in the area allege that Ng even harbored a dark secret: They assert that his opulent lifestyle was built on deception.
Ng was charged last month with four counts of fraud for allegedly collecting at least S$1 billion ($740 million) from investors for fictitious commodity trades.
The police have identified it as one of the largest-ever alleged investment fraud schemes in the city-state. It is also the latest in a string of controversies in the financial and commodities trading center, where assets under management have risen to S$4 trillion, mainly as a result of foreign inflows.
Much about Ng and his dealings remain unknown. However, open court hearings, investor interviews, and charge sheets filed by Singapore prosecutors suggest that the young financier raised substantial amounts of money by touting annual quarterly returns of 15% –– a track record that would have put him on par with the world’s top hedge fund managers.
Though Singapore offers numerous legitimate business opportunities, there will almost certainly be additional instances of suspicious activity as capital flows into the country and investors seek returns in an era of historically low interest rates, according to Song Seng Wun, an economist at CIMB Private Banking who has worked in the country’s finance industry for over three decades.
“This is not the last instance, and that is a sad reality,” Song said.
Email attempts to contact Ng for comment were unsuccessful. Davinder Singh, executive chairman of Davinder Singh Chambers, his counsel, did not respond to email inquiries. The charging sheets and court hearings do not indicate whether Ng has entered a plea. He was released on S$1.5 million bail and is being monitored electronically. The court will resume hearings in the coming weeks.
Though little is known about Ng’s early life, he has recently become a prominent figure in Singapore’s philanthropic, supercar, and corporate communities.
In August 2020, he was recognized for his contribution to a fundraising campaign by the prestigious Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore.
The Straits Times announced that the Commercial Affairs Department confiscated a Pagani Huayra supercar from Ng, citing unnamed sources. “Commenting on ongoing police operations is inappropriate,” the Singapore police said when asked about the seizure.
According to the Straits Times, industry sources estimate Ng’s Pagani Huayra is worth between S$7 million and S$8 million.
According to corporate filings, Ng’s business activities ranged from commodities trading and technology startups to Japanese restaurants and a veterinary clinic.
The fraud charges against Ng revolve around his dealings at Envy Asset Management and Envy Global Trading, both of which he managed and served as a director. Of the more than S$1 billion invested in the firms, prosecutors allege that S$300 million was transferred to Ng’s personal account and a further S$200 million remains unaccounted for.
Although investors collected compensation totaling S$700 million, prosecutors said they are owed an additional S$1 billion based on the face value of unpaid contracts.
According to a police release, both Envy Asset and Envy Global are under investigation by Singapore police, but only Ng has been charged. Envy Global’s external representative did not respond to requests for comment. Envy Asset has ceased operations, Envy Global’s representative said in February.
Ng’s alleged investment strategies have been related to nickel, a critical component of many electric-car batteries. The metal has become a common speculative bet in recent years as demand for Teslas and other electric vehicles has increased.
In one transaction outlined in the charge sheets, Ng solicited funds from investors under the guise of purchasing nickel from an Australian firm named Poseidon Nickel Ltd. Prosecutors allege that he never completed the transaction. According to Poseidon’s chief executive officer, Peter Harold, the organization has had no contact with Ng or associated organizations.
According to the charge sheets, Ng was involved in defrauding investors into purchasing alleged forward contracts with French lender BNP Paribas SA that did not exist. According to a person familiar with the matter, BNP had no account or trading background with Ng, Envy Asset Management, or Envy Global Trading. A spokeswoman for the BNP refused to comment.
One investor who started investing with Ng in 2018 after hearing about him from business associates said that he never withdrew money because he believed Ng was consistently generating high returns.
Bloomberg obtained documents sent by Envy Asset Management to prospective investors and partners that outline previous nickel sales, contract durations, and projected income in percentages down to the fourth decimal point.
Among Ng’s investors were Envysion Wealth Management Pte., a Singapore-based fund management firm founded by Shim Wai Han. Although Envysion shares a name with one of Ng’s businesses and rents meeting rooms and pantry space from them, Shim stated in an April 1 interview and subsequent messages that Envysion is otherwise unrelated to Ng. He is not an Envysion owner or executive, she said.
Prosecutors allege that Ng persuaded Envysion and Shim to spend S$48 million in receivables on fictitious nickel goods.
“Our goal at the moment is singular,” Shim said in the interview. “To recoup funds for investors and ourselves.”
The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the country’s financial regulator, is conducting a supervisory analysis of Envysion to decide if its board of directors and senior management engaged in governance or risk management deficiencies. Shim said in the interview that Envysion has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
Shim mentioned that she and Envysion are “collaborating with MAS to assist investors.” She mentioned that she performed due diligence on her investments with Ng, including inquiring about his trades and strategy from friends in the commodities industry.
Both Envy Asset and Envy Global are not approved by MAS, as the regulator does not require firms invested in physical assets for high-net-worth individuals or institutions to be licensed. According to a March statement from the monetary authority, MAS put Envy Asset on its investor warning list last year to highlight the possibility that the firm was incorrectly viewed as being licensed by MAS.
Ng was fired as managing director of Envy Global last month, the company announced, adding that it had formed an independent interim management committee to fulfill client obligations in cooperation with authorities.
In recent years, large corporate scandals have also made headlines in the region, most notably the collapse of oil trading giant Hin Leong Trading Ltd. last year.
Authorities must strike a balance between tightening reporting standards to allay fears about misbehavior and promoting financial centre expansion, according to Lawrence Loh, director of the National University of Singapore Business School’s Centre for Governance and Sustainability. “If you use a sledgehammer too hard, then no investment can materialize.”