Singapore oil tycoon OK Lim convicted of fraud charges

Singapore oil tycoon OK Lim convicted of fraud charges

Lim Oon Kuin, the founder of the now-collapsed oil trading firm Hin Leong Trading Pte., has been convicted on three criminal charges after a lengthy trial in Singapore. Known as OK Lim, the former tycoon faced charges of cheating HSBC Holdings Plc and instigating a Hin Leong employee to forge documents. The total amount involved in these fraudulent activities was approximately USD111.7 million, as reported by the State Courts.

Lim, along with his two children and former personal assistant Serene Seng, is also embroiled in a civil suit in the High Court. Liquidators and creditors are suing them for USD3.5 billion. Major lenders involved include HSBC and DBS Group Holdings Ltd. This trial is still ongoing.

The charges

The 82-year-old businessman, first charged in August 2020, faced a total of 130 charges of forgery and cheating. The prosecution proceeded with three specific charges: two for cheating under Section 420 of the Penal Code, and one for instigating forgery for the purpose of cheating under Section 468 read with Section 109 of the Penal Code. These charges were connected to two fraudulent discounting applications made by Hin Leong to HSBC, which led to the disbursement of USD111,683,939.

The fraudulent applications were based on fictitious transactions purportedly with China Aviation Oil (Singapore) Corporation Ltd and Unipec Singapore Pte Ltd, which were supported by forged documentation.

Court findings and sentencing

Principal District Judge Toh Han Li found that Lim had directed his employees to forge the documents for these transactions in March 2020, with the dishonest intent to deceive HSBC. Despite Lim’s claims of having slowed down and delegated responsibilities due to age, the court established that he continued to be deeply involved in the company’s operations and decision-making processes.

Judge Toh rejected Lim’s defense, which included denying instructing his staff to prepare and submit the discounting applications. The judge found credible the testimonies of key prosecution witnesses, including long-time employees who detailed Lim’s instructions and involvement in the fraudulent activities.

Lim is set to be sentenced on October 3, 2024. He faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge and may also be liable to a fine. Currently, he remains out on a USD4 million bail.

The aftermath of Hin Leong Trading

Hin Leong Trading, founded in 1973, was one of Asia’s largest oil traders before its dramatic collapse in 2020. The company filed for insolvency on April 17, 2020, the same day Lim stepped down as managing director, and was wound up in March 2021. The collapse of Hin Leong sent shockwaves through Singapore’s oil trading community, adding to a series of high-profile failures in the industry.

Lim, his son Evan Lim Chee Meng, and daughter Lim Huey Ching continue to face legal challenges, including the significant civil suit brought by liquidators aiming to recover billions of dollars. The case has highlighted significant issues within the oil trading sector and has underscored the importance of stringent regulatory oversight and ethical business practices.

The punishment for cheating or abetting forgery for the purpose of cheating in Singapore is severe, reflecting the gravity of the offences and their impact on financial institutions and the broader market.