However, Lim Hwee Bin, a lawyer, has no documents to show how she made a 42,000% return on her investments from 1996 to 2012
Lim Hwee Bin, the wife of former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng Chong Hwa, testified in a US court last week that the tens of millions of dollars she was being asked to account for was made through calculated shrewd investments — from informal currency swaps to a vineyard in China — although she no longer had the documents to show it.
Lim took the stand last week in the ongoing trial of her husband — the only Goldman Sachs banker to stand trial in the massive heist of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) funds.
The prosecution has contended that US$35.1 million of 1MDB funds were funnelled through Silken Waters, an entity whose beneficiary is Lim’s mother, Tan Kim Chin.
According to March 28 court transcripts obtained by The Edge, Lim maintained during her examination by defence attorney Marc Agnifilo that the bulk of the money that came to her was from her business endeavours in China with Judy Chan, the ex-wife of former Goldman Sachs banker and prosecution’s star witness, Tim Leissner.
First investment with Chinese individual named Kim Sung
Prior to investing with Chan, Lim had made a £50,000 investment while a student in the UK. She said that around 1990, while pursuing her A levels in math and accounting and subsequently studying law in university, she met Kim Sung, a well-connected Chinese national and an “uncle” to her close friend, Siow Sin.
“I know the families are very, very close,” she said of Siow Sin and Kim Sung. Whenever he was in London for business, which would be a few times a year, they would all meet up.
Lim said that it was through Kim Sung that she started investing in China — after a two-year gap, she had bumped into him in Hong Kong in 1996. At the time, she said, Kim Sung was involved in supplying petroleum-based plastic resin, among others. As China’s economy was expanding, she saw the possibility of investing in the country through a currency swap as Kim Sung was happy to accept her British pounds as foreign currency was then a desired commodity, she said.
“You can’t hold assets. You can’t do anything in China. So, that’s the only way, if you want to invest in China, you have got someone that you could trust and you invest in the person that you trust to hold on your behalf in China. And it is definitely not uncommon in Asia.”
She invested £50,000 from the money that her parents had given her and her brother, Lim Chee Khang, which the siblings managed while they were in London. She maintained, however, that it would always be her parents’ money as long as they had not distributed the assets from the account.
“We do our own investment at that time in London. And then the money has always remained in the account,” she said, adding that her parents, who ran a plywood trading business in Kuala Terengganu, were notified about her investment with Kim Sung only when she had to issue cheques to him.
The initial capital was used to purchase and sell plastic resin and raw materials such as timber as Kim Sung hailed from the timber-rich province of Liaoning in China, she said.
No written agreement as, ‘ultimately … you can only trust the person’
Asked by Agnifilo whether she had entered into any written agreement with Kim Sung, she replied in the negative. “I do not think I need any written agreement with Kim. I do not have it because the name is not registered (under me) in China. So, even if there is an agreement, I would not be capable of enforcing the agreement. So, ultimately, at the end of the day, you can only trust the person that you are dealing with.”
She said she trusted Kim Sung as she had known him for about six years at that point.
In a span of four years, between 1996 and 1999, she had invested about £500,000 with Kim Sung, who updated her on her investments by producing annual statements showing the trades done for the year and also the profit and loss for the period.
Asked whether she had any of the statements, she replied: “Those I kept since 1999, all the way? No, I don’t keep those statements anymore.”
Lim said that, around 2005, Kim Sung was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer and wanted to transfer Lim’s money back to her before he underwent a transplant procedure.
In those years of investing with Kim Sung, the value of her investments had grown to about US$6 million, she testified.
Pressed for time, she called Leissner’s wife, Judy Chan — whose family had a business background and were “well versed” with affairs in China — to seek advice on how best to get the money out of China.
“So, I thought that’s one of the best persons that I could approach to ask how possible it is to repatriate the money out of China,” Lim told the court.
The Judy connection
Around 2005, her husband, Ng, had left Deutsche Bank to join Goldman Sachs. In the fall (September to December) of that year, Lim met Leissner — who would become Ng’s boss — and Chan. Lim said she would call Chan to ask her for advice on how to get settled in Hong Kong, where Ng was based, as “Judy knows Hong Kong very well”.
On ways to “repatriate” her money back from China, Lim said Chan had suggested that as Lim was pressed for time, her family could hold the money — RMB48 million — in China while looking for opportunities to sort the money out offshore.
Subsequently, Chan asked whether Lim and her family would like to co-invest in her business, which was expanding in China.
“At the time, they were doing a lot of expansion in China. And she’s even looking at a return of, say, about 20% to 25% per renminbi cumulatively. That was at the time that China was expanding very, very fast. I thought that was another opportunity to co-invest with Judy’s family,” she said of her conversation with Chan.
Lim said she thought it would be a good investment for a number of reasons: Chan’s family business background; Chan herself was a “very established business person”, “very capable” and “focused”; and she was also the wife of a Goldman partner.
China’s expanding economy was an added bonus. “Nobody would want to take the money out of China at that point in time; if you have the opportunity to be in China, you stay in China,” she said.
Lim testified that she then put Kim Sung in touch with Chan and had asked Chan how best she could get the funds transferred from him.
Chan then gave Lim a letter of agreement — a two-page letter, which Lim described as “like acknowledgment of debt that she has, she confirmed that she has received the total funds from Kim”. Lim said she showed the draft of the letter to her brother before she signed it.
No business updates
Over the years, Lim said that Chan “never gave updates” on how her investments were doing.
Agnifilo: So did she ever tell you how your money was doing in the way that —
Lim: That Kim does? No, Judy doesn’t. Judy doesn’t but that, that — when we have the occasion when we talk about the business, she would tell me about business or, you know, some of the achievement that they do or they got and things like that, but to get into the details of numbers or what exactly, no, Judy doesn’t do that.
A major break in their relationship occurred in 2011, Lim testified, as Chan was not pleased upon learning of Leissner’s relationship with former Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd group CEO Datuk Rohana Rozhan. She was “upset” with Lim for not divulging the affair and suggested that Lim divest from her family’s company.
Lim said divesting meant that Chan would pay her outside of China, although their initial plan had been for Lim to take her share through an initial public offering (IPO) of the Chan family’s Chinese vineyard on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. This would have enabled Lim to “repatriate” her assets outside of China.
Lim said because of the rift, however, she realised the IPO plan would not materialise for her.
According to March 29 transcripts, during cross examination by prosecutor Alixandra Smith, Lim said that after the conversation with Chan over her divestment, both women had another conversation sometime toward the end of 2011 when Chan “came out” with the number of 220 million (RMB).
Lim said that she could not “question” the figure given. “She did a calculation … She (gave) me the number. It’s not on my side to even tell her or ask or to say whether I want to, like you said, run through your due diligence or see your company, I want to do this or do that.
“No. At that time, that was the figure she gave me, roughly 220 million renminbi,” Lim said, adding it was worth around US$35 mil at that point.
Smith: Why at that point did you not go find another friend somewhere who could then take it in renminbi and keep that investment in China?
Lim: At that time with Judy she was capable to pay me outside. If Judy is capable to pay me outside, why would I still want the investment to be stuck there?
When asked why she didn’t take up this offer in 2005, Lim said that Chan had made no such offer then.
In 2012, Lim said Chan called her to say she should be expecting some money.
“Judy called me and said that she’s ready to pay and the first payment shall be about US$26 million. She gave me the number of US$26 million and she said that would be the first payment.”
Lim said, however, that this was not the total sum as, apart from the profit from the business, she had also gained from the Chinese renminbi’s appreciation against the greenback over the years, as the renminbi “moved from as high as almost nine over down to about six over”.
Lim also confirmed that she received four total payments : two in 2012 and two in 2013.
Opening of UBS account in Singapore
After discussing with her family, Lim decided to open a UBS account in Singapore as her brother had a good relationship with the bankers there.
Asked whether she knew the source of the money, she said it was from Chan’s family.
Agnifilo: Did you have any idea that the money was related to 1MDB?
Lim: Not at all. I mean, Judy is paying me my investment, the return of my investment, and it has to come from Judy’s family or, even if she takes a loan or whatever, it has to come from Judy and her family.
Earlier in the trial, the prosecution had contended that the transfer of funds from Capital Place to Silken Waters were in fact monies stolen from 1MDB, which Ng had helped defraud and for which he had received a kickback of US$35.1 million.
The first transfer of US$17.5 million from Capital Place to Silken Waters took place on June 13, 2012, and on July 16, another sum, US$6.9 million, was deposited.
The beneficial owner of Capital Place was Chan while the beneficial owner of Silken Waters was Lim’s mother.
A further US$4.2 million was transferred from Capital Place to Silken Waters on Sept 18, 2013. On the same date, US$6.5 million was moved from Chan’s account in Morgan Stanley to Silken Waters.
Ng’s trial is being held in the US District Court, Eastern District of New York.
Emails deleted to ‘clean up’
The issue of deleted emails has resurfaced in the ongoing trial of former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng Chong Hwa as his wife, Lim Hwee Bin, said she would delete emails in bulk to “clean up”.
A defence witness, Lim testified that she had the habit of deleting emails from entire years, according to court transcripts obtained by The Edge. “The entire period, just deleted,” she said, when asked by defence attorney Marc Agnifilo about the deletion of a Victoria Square email account in February 2015, based on Google subscriber information.
“I probably have. I have habits of cleaning up and I just do it by year. So, the whole entire year say … like, 2000, the whole entire year, I’ll delete it. Or 2001. I’ll delete the whole entire year. So, yeah, I do that sometimes.”
Lim said she deleted the email account when she was moving house as she was also doing housekeeping of her personal affairs. She added that as Victoria Square — set up as a shell company — no longer existed in February 2015, she deleted the account.
Lim: That’s correct, yes. My roof was leaking.
Agnifilo: Okay. And what does that have to do with the deletion of an email?
Lim: Oh, we were moving house … So, everything got to be packed up, including the computers … everything. So, in the midst, you just do every housekeeping possible at that time.
The prosecution had previously said that Ng himself had deleted email accounts to cover any wrongdoing.
The prosecution also claims that Victoria Square — previously called Silken Waters — was a shell entity used by Ng and Lim to funnel US$35.1 million of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) funds.
In her testimony, however, Lim maintained that the money received was from her investments in China, including a business venture with Judy Chan, the former wife of prosecution star witness and former Goldman banker, Tim Leissner.
UBS client contact report in dispute
Defence witness Lim Hwee Bin last week disputed a bank’s client contact report that stated her family would be transferring funds from Switzerland to Singapore. Testifying as a defence witness in the ongoing fraud trial against her husband, former Goldman Sachs banker Roger Ng Chong Hwa, she said the profits were from China and not Switzerland as indicated in the report.
The prosecution had cited a client contact report dated May 22, 2012, which stated that Tan Kim Chin — Lim’s mother — was looking to transfer recent profits of about US$26 million from equity investments in Switzerland to Asia. In disputing the contents of the report, Lim said the other attendees present were not indicated, as only her mother and the bank officer were listed as attendees. Her father, brother, another bank officer and herself had also been present.
Defence Attorney Marc Agnifilo: Did you tell anybody at this bank that money was coming from Switzerland?
Lim: We told them very specifically that we were taking profit from our investment from China, that … there will be a return of our investment from China.
The report also stated that the funds were intended to be transferred from Swiss bank BSI to Asia, either Singapore or Hong Kong. However, when asked, she said no one mentioned BSI.
Agnifilo: Did anyone ever mention BSI or anything else in this instance?
Lim: No, not at all.
She also disputed parts of the report, which stated that her mother would travel to Singapore on May 23, 2012, to sign account opening documents. Lim indicated that she was facing medical issues at the time and her mother would not have left her to travel to neighbouring Singapore.
Lim said that after discussions with the family, they decided to open a bank account with UBS Singapore to receive incoming funds from investments related to Judy Chan, former wife of the prosecution’s star witness and former Goldman banker Tim Leissner.
According to the prosecution, US$35.1 million of 1Malaysia Development Bhd funds were funnelled to the account of Silken Waters, a shell entity whose beneficiary was Lim’s mother, Tan. It also highlighted that the account under the entity’s name was opened with UBS Singapore just days after Goldman transferred US$907.5 million from the first bond deal to 1MDB on May 21.