KUALA LUMPUR, May 16 — Four gold traders from Genneva Sdn Bhd walked free today after being acquitted of 224 counts of money laundering and illegal deposit-taking said to be worth over RM141 million.
Sessions Court judge Rozana Ali Yusof ruled that the accused — directors Datuk Ng Poh Weng, 63, Datuk Marcus Yee Yuen Seng, 61, Datuk Chin Wai Leong, 37, and former director Liew Chee Wah, 59 — had conducted a genuine gold trading business.
According to The Star Online, the judge said the buy-back concept was found to be nothing but a marketing strategy employed by the company to assure the buyer that the gold bars were genuine gold.
“That is why Genneva is willing to buy back the gold,” Rozana was quoted as saying in her judgment.
Ng was charged with 93 counts of money-laundering, while his colleagues Yee and Chin were slapped with 40 and 61 counts respectively.
They were also accused of taking deposits from the public in their capacity as directors without a valid licence, an offence under the Banking and Financial Institutions Act.
Liew, who has since left Genneva, had faced 30 charges.
All four were said to have committed the offences between July 2008 and June 2009.
Lawyers Mohamed Haniff and K. Selva Kumaran had acted for Ng, Yee and Chin while Keppy Wong represented Liew.
Deputy public prosecutors Alvin Ong and Mardziatun Nisa Ahamadul Kabir, acting for Bank Negara, applied for a stay of judgment and for the seized gold and money to remain frozen pending their appeal. The stay application is set to be heard tomorrow.
Genneva was among several companies that had been raided by the central bank last year over a dubious gold trading scheme, which also included the similarly named Genneva Malaysia Sdn Bhd and its affiliates.
Bank Negara had frozen Genneva Malaysia’s accounts, cheques and other assets worth RM99.8 million in cash besides seizing 126kg in gold bullion on suspicion the company violated various banking and financial laws which include taking deposits without giving gold in return, money laundering, evading taxes, appointing agents without licence, failing to file statutory documents, and misrepresenting itself as an investment firm and giving false descriptions on its business after several people lodged complaints with the police.
Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department has also conducted a similar operation against Genneva Pte Ltd in Singapore.
An estimated 60,000 people nationwide lost their money after Genneva Malaysia’s gold bullions and accounts were frozen by Bank Negara last October on suspicion of violating several financial and banking laws including illegal deposit taking, money laundering and tax evasion.
Bank Negara previously said its investigation showed Genneva Malaysia’s debt was over 10 times the amount of its assets despite having sold the precious metal at up to 25 per cent higher than the market rate, signalling that the venture was unsustainable in the long run.
The central bank also said early checks showed that Genneva Malaysia had relied heavily on cash from new customers to keep it afloat.
It also said the records showed Genneva Malaysia has not paid out more than RM80 million to customers who had traded in their gold to the company for the guaranteed cash payments.
Genneva Malaysia has some 60,000 customers and a monthly turnover of RM2 billion, according to its traders interviewed by The Malaysian Insider in October 2012, but the company’s website stated 50,000 customers and a turnover of RM3 billion.
The gold trading business is unregulated in Malaysia.
Last December, nine investors sued Genneva Malaysia and four of its directors — named as Tengku Muhaini Sultan Ahmad Shah, Philip Lim Jit Meng, Ahmad Khairuddin Ilias and Tan Lian Keng — to get back over RM2 million in investments, claiming the firm had carried out fraud and misrepresented the scheme as compliant with syariah law.