Grab driver in SGX market manipulation case, including via Telegram chat groups, faces jail

SINGAPORE: Over two-and-a-half years, a Grab driver made about S$365,000 in profit by illegally manipulating the market with multiple trading accounts under names including his retired parents’.

Kenneth Goh Jia Poh, 34, also used his influence in trading Telegram chat groups to induce others to deal in the shares of various securities so he could sell his shares off at a profit. He spent most of the money on buying a condominium and down-payment for a car.

However, his actions were uncovered after the Singapore Exchange (SGX) referred a series of suspicious trading activities across more than 100 securities to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

Goh pleaded guilty on Friday (Nov 18) to four charges under the Securities and Futures Act, with another four charges to be taken into consideration.

The court heard that Goh was a Grab driver and day trader at the time of the offenses. He had met his co-conspirator, 33-year-old Oon Yun Cong, while serving National Service.

Goh often discussed stocks with Oon, who was a day-trader, and the pair co-authored a blog providing technical analysis and commentaries on trading in Singapore-listed stocks.

THE TELEGRAM CHAT GROUPS

The pair were part of two Telegram chat groups on trading: Trade with the Wind and SGX Penny Stocks Discussion. They went by pseudonyms in the chat groups, which had 980 and 1,975 members respectively.

Goh and Oon were highly active members in the Penny chat, with Goh being given the title of “Spotter” by the chat administrator as he was “good at spotting stocks” whose prices were likely to rise.

Goh admitted that he had an influence in the chat and even a “following”, with other chat members believing that he was good at seeing how stocks would move.

Over more than two-and-a-half years between 2016 and 2018, Goh rigged the market on 402 occasions across 126 unique securities.

He would create a false impression that there was substantial demand from buyers in the particular security, inducing other market participants into buying the security and driving up its price. He would then sell his stake for a profit.

He used seven trading accounts to do this, with four of the accounts belonging to his retired parents. His parents knew that Goh was using their accounts, but did not know what he was using them for. Goh kept all the profits made from the trades in his parents’ accounts.

On nine occasions between July 2020 and Aug 26, 2020, Goh lied in the Penny chat group to induce others to deal in shares.

He would target a security and purchase shares in the security at the prevailing best selling prices. Around the same time, he would place a sell order for the same number of shares at a few ticks higher than the price he bought them at.

Goh would then promote the security in the chat group by making false statements to drive up the share price. To perpetuate the falsehood, he would place small buy orders at the then-best selling price to create an impression of genuine buying interest in the market.

As chat group members were induced to place buy orders at higher prices, the share price would rise, leading to Goh’s eventual profit.

On a few occasions, Goh roped in Oon to coordinate their false statements in the chat to induce others to buy shares.

The prosecution is seeking at least 20 months’ jail and a fine of S$355,604 for Goh.

They called his conduct “a sustained campaign of market rigging across a wide range of securities across SGX”.

“The volume of shares ordered in his false bids were massive, ranging from two times to more than 90 times his actual shareholding,” said the prosecutors.

Goh made at least 9,249 false bids and small-volume purchases across 325 occasions. On one occasion, he placed 91 false bids for a volume totaling close to 12 million shares, even though his shareholding at the time was only 445,300 shares.

The scheme was sophisticated, with Goh clearing the market of existing sell orders that were priced better than his own target sell order, and flooding the market with false bids. He also coordinated the execution of his target sell orders and the deletion of his false bids.

He was driven by personal gain and single-handedly masterminded and executed this scheme, said the prosecution.

He will return to court for sentencing in December.

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