The founder of Hin Leong Trading has been hit with more than 100 new charges, increasing pressure on the Singapore tycoon at the centre of an oil dealing scandal that has left banks facing hundreds of millions of dollars in potential losses.
Prosecutors filed 105 charges against Lim Oon Kuin in Singapore’s state courts on Thursday including cheating, conspiracy to commit forgery and abetment of forgery of a valuable security.
Lim, who last year confessed to hiding $800m in losses at the Singapore-based oil trading firm he founded, was already facing charges related to forgery.
The charges allege Lim deceived several banks including ANZ, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, DBS and Société Générale, into believing Hin Leong had entered into contracts with BP Singapore. BP declined to comment.
Lim was also accused of conspiring with and abetting Hin Leong staff to obtain false documents certifying oil quality and to forge a bill of lading — paperwork that confirms a shipment is on its way.
The new charges mark a sharp escalation in the case against one of Singapore’s most prominent businesspeople, whose empire collapsed last year as oil prices tumbled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sharp swings in crude prices exposed Hin Leong, and Lim admitted he had directed the company’s finance department not to disclose losses suffered in futures markets.
He also revealed he had sold a “substantial part” of Hin Leong’s oil inventories and used the cash as general funds, breaching inventory financing agreements with banks.
Police in Singapore said last year that Lim had instigated “a Hin Leong employee to forge a document” that was then used to secure more than $56m in trade finance from a financial institution.
The scandal sent shockwaves through the commodity trading industry and left several banks in Asia and Europe facing huge losses. The company is in the hands of liquidators.
Hin Leong grew out of Lim’s business selling fuel to taxis, bus companies and fishermen in Singapore to become one of Asia’s largest traders of bunker fuel for ships.
The company’s creditors, which include HSBC, ABN Amro and SocGen as well as Singaporean banks DBS, OCBC and UOB, are owed almost $4bn. Some of Hin Leong’s lenders have started to take provisions against losses.
Singapore’s high court in May froze $3.5bn of assets owned by the Lim family, accepting a request by Hin Leong’s liquidators. Assets included shares, bank accounts, memberships at a marina and a polo club and properties in Singapore and Australia, according to court documents.
A lawyer representing Lim did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Lim late last year denied allegations he had used forged documents to secure financing.
In the wake of the Hin Leong fiasco, banks that specialise in commodity trade finance have focused on large clients such as Singapore-based Trafigura and Vitol. As a result, these trading groups have increased their market share.
“We benefited from this trend because access to capital is more difficult for others . . . We have increased our pool of funding by 10 per cent year on year,” Trafigura’s chief financial officer Christophe Salmon told the Financial Times in a recent interview.