Sunday 30 June 2013

Shanmugam clears air on past links to firms linked to the fires causing the haze

By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 29 Jun 2013

FOREIGN Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday explained his past position as director in two companies controlled by an Indonesian conglomerate reportedly linked to the fires causing the haze.

The conglomerate, Sinar Mas Group (SMG), has some companies in Singapore and was named by a senior Indonesian official last week as one of the alleged culprits burning forests and contributing to the haze enveloping the region.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, detailed how he came to be involved in the two SMG-controlled companies: Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) and Asia Food & Properties (AFP).

In June 1996, he and two others were asked by the Singapore Exchange (SGX) to be independent directors of then listed company Amcol, he said. The company, many of whose shareholders were Singaporeans who had invested using their Central Provident Fund savings, was in "serious trouble".

Most of its directors had been told to step down, he said.

"The three of us were asked to go in and see how the investing public shareholders of Amcol could be helped," said Mr Shanmugam, then a lawyer with expertise in securities law.

They managed Amcol's affairs with judicial managers and a white knight, SMG, was found.

SMG took over Amcol in 1997 using AFP, which was listed that same year. In 1999, GAR was listed as a subsidiary of AFP.

Mr Shanmugam was appointed director of both companies after their listing. The Amcol shareholders who kept their shares ended up getting "a substantial benefit".

But, he said, "I did not charge or receive any fees for this work - the work was done to help the public, who were Amcol shareholders". He had wanted to step down when AFP was listed in 1997 as the task given to him by SGX - to help Amcol shareholders - had been completed.

He, however, agreed to SMG's request to stay on for a period, to give confidence to shareholders.

He stepped down from the boards of AFP and GAR in 2001.

"Throughout this period, I did not own any shares in Amcol, AFP or GAR," he said. "I did my duty on behalf of shareholders as requested by SGX. And I have never owned any shares in any of these companies." He received director's fees for his AFP and GAR posts, similar to other directors.

Mr Shanmugam said he had also been asked about Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), which a top Indonesian official said owned land with hot spots. GAR and APP are units of SMG. Noting that APP was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, he said: "I had no dealings whatsoever with APP."

On Tuesday, a foreign online report highlighted Mr Shanmugam's links with these companies.

Late on Wednesday night, he called lawyer Choo Zheng Xi, who co-founded The Online Citizen, to discuss the report. Yesterday, he said he knew Mr Choo and had discussed issues with him before over dinner and the phone.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Mr Choo, 28, said: "Minister shared his views about the article, noting that he thought it was libellous... I agreed that there were many unverifiable facts in the article and that it appeared to me that the article was libellous." He added that he had told friends of the conversation and the minister's views. "I had earlier in the day informed them of my opinion that the article was libellous under Singapore's laws on defamation."

Mr Shanmugam said he was "surprised" to see blogger Kirsten Han posting on Thursday that she found the late-night call "troubling" and "worrying".

Yesterday, he also told reporters that Mr Choo had sent him an e-mail saying his posting explaining what happened was fair.

In another post last evening, Mr Choo took responsibility for the mischaracterisation of the minister's phone call to him, which was a personal call. "I apologise to both the minister and Kirsten for the miscommunication, which was solely occasioned by me," said Mr Choo.

K Shanmugam says will continue engaging with online community
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 28 Jun 2013

Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said he will continue to engage with the online community.

He was responding to questions on an online post by blogger Kirsten Han, about a phone conversation Mr Shanmugam had with lawyer Remy Choo.

The minister had replied to the post earlier on Friday, saying that his comments during that phone call were misconstrued.

Mr Shanmugam said it is important that facts be verified before any posting is done.

He said: "The key, I think, is for people to recognise two things. One, before you go and write something, try and verify the facts. Second, when you read something that somebody else has purported to post, be careful, because it may not be accurate, it may not even be by the person purporting to be so.

“Recently there was a posting purported to be from one of our MPs, Irene (Ng), on haze, with her big photograph, posted by one of these websites and it's a complete fake. So you know, (on the) internet, one has got to be careful. But nevertheless, it's a place for people to express their views, and it's robust and it's good to engage.”

The phone conversation between Mr Shanmugam and Mr Choo was about an article on The Global Mail.

It had raised questions about Mr Shanmugam's previously-held directorships in companies linked to Indonesia's Sinar Mas Group.

Ms Han said in her blog that the minister wanted Mr Choo to convey that Mr Shanmugam would not hesitate to sue those republishing the article.

Mr Shanmugam later clarified that this description was inaccurate.

In a statement on Ms Han's blog later on Friday, Mr Choo said that he was responsible for giving that impression to Miss Han, and that it was incorrect and unfair of him to have done so.


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