Hin Leong's ex-employee agrees OK Lim was 'boss' who would take responsibility if things went wrong
Source: Business Times
Article Date: 03 May 2023
Author: Anita Gabriel
But Serene Seng, former manager of corporate affairs for Hin Leong, adds this is no longer the case.
A long-time former employee of Hin Leong Trading (HLT) agreed with the defence counsel of Lim Oon Kuin that the fallen oil tycoon was the “kind of boss who would take responsibility for anything that went wrong in the company, even if he was not the one involved”. But she added that that was no longer the case.
“I thought so, but not any more,” replied HLT’s former manager of corporate affairs Serene Seng to the question posed by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of Davinder Singh Chambers, during his cross-examination of her testimony at the State Court on Tuesday (May 2).
Singh is representing OK Lim, as he is better known, who is on trial facing three cheating and forgery charges. The trial began on Apr 11.
“I am talking about at that time (in the past),” remarked Singh. “Yes, at that time (he did),” Seng replied.
Seng, 61, worked at HLT for nearly 30 years and retired three years ago. She worked closely with Lim “almost on a daily basis” for more than two decades, and was his personal assistant for several years in the late 90s.
Seng, who also headed HLT’s contracts department, is the prosecution’s third witness. She had earlier testified that she retired from the group in April 2020, due to menopause-related stress and woes that had beset the firm amid the pandemic.
In closing his cross-examination of Seng on the sixth day of her testimony, Singh suggested that Seng “decided to make a run” by leaving the firm as she had felt that the “truth” was going to emerge about her involvement in the key transactions related to the charges against Lim.
“For someone who spent 30 years there (in the firm), to leave on the same day as your (resignation) letter ... suggests that you were in a hurry,” he said.
Seng replied that she “just wanted to leave the company”, as doing so had already been her intention for two to three years.
He further pointed out that Seng had submitted her resignation letter merely two days after OK Lim and his children Evan Lim Chee Meng and Lim Huey Ching held a teleconference call with representatives of HSBC.
Prosecutors earlier said that in that call, the Lim family informed HSBC that due to “miscommunication” within HLT, the discounting applications for the sale of oil to China Aviation Oil (CAO) and Unipec Singapore had been mistakenly submitted to the bank, when in fact, the transactions with the two firms had not materialised.
“I disagree. I had to leave (the company) at that time as I was honestly not feeling well,” she replied.
She also said that at that time in 2020 (this was when oil prices crashed as the pandemic decimated energy demand), the banks were asking questions.
“I just didn’t know how to answer the questions from all the banks,” she added.
Singh asked: “All you needed to do was relay the banks’ questions to the Lims, get the answers and convey it back to the bank, correct?” She replied: “No, it’s not as simple as that.”
Seng earlier testified that in relation to the Unipec transaction, she was called into Lim’s office and was instructed by him to prepare the documents for a discounting application “first”, before the deal was even closed. Singh rejected the claim.
“You have created this exchange ... (with) the word ‘first’ more than three years after the discussion purely to deflect the blame on Lim,” Singh suggested, to which Seng disagreed.
Prosecutors have claimed that the two transactions involving the purported sale of oil by HLT to CAO and Unipec worth around US$56 million each were “complete fabrications, concocted on Lim’s directions”.
They claimed that Lim instructed HLT employees, including Seng, to make the fraudulent discounting applications to HSBC through forged and fabricated supporting documents and as a result, the bank was “dishonestly induced” into disbursing some US$112 million to HLT.
Seng is also a co-defendant in a civil suit, along with members of the Lim family, by HSBC in relation to the Unipec and CAO discounting requests.
Seng said that she was not involved in the CAO deal.
“Isn’t it the case that because you believed that the investigators were not focusing on you as far as the CAO transaction was concerned, you decided to take the approach of denying any knowledge of it?” he asked. She replied: “That’s not true.”
Prosecutors plan to call more than 25 witnesses, including representatives from CAO and Unipec, in the hearing that continues over several dates in the ensuing months till Jul 20.
Source: Business Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.