Court Tussle in Singapore Sees Regulator Appeal Trading Penalty

(Bloomberg) -- The Monetary Authority of Singapore is going to court to seek an increase in penalties handed down to a divorced couple for unauthorized stock trading.

The regulator is challenging sums of as much as S$75,000 ($53,660) ordered by a district judge in March, according to its notice of appeal filed in the Singapore High Court. The punishments are at the low end of the S$50,000 to S$2 million MAS can seek under the city’s civil penalty regime. 

The case is the latest indication that Singapore is taking enforcement of financial misconduct seriously. MAS secured its first conviction of a trader, sentenced to a 16-week jail term in the city’s first criminal spoofing case, in March and has set up a new unit to enhance surveillance.

MAS said by email it wasn’t appropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings. Wang Boon Heng and his ex-wife Foo Jee Chin declined to comment through their lawyer Robert Raj. The duo haven’t filed their response to MAS’s appeal.

The regulator is seeking S$200,000 from Wang and S$100,000 from Foo, according to court records. District Judge Chiah Kok Khun ruled in March that the penalties were sufficient to deter the public against unauthorized share trading, but MAS said Wang’s behavior carries risks because his wrongdoing echoed the methods used in insider trading and market rigging cases.

Singapore introduced the civil penalty regime in 2004 to provide a more flexible approach against breaches of market rules. Such cases are usually resolved after admissions of contraventions or settled out of court.

The 2013 lawsuit against Wang and Foo claimed that Wang used his former spouse and driver’s trading accounts without consent of the brokerage firms. The driver was let off with a warning. The couple’s actions had no adverse effect on the markets and Wang, a bankrupt, traded using the accounts of others because he couldn’t open his own, the district judge ruled.

Wang and Foo “displayed a lack of cooperation and honesty” and “invented a defense” involving trading by Wang’s dead brother, the judge said. The couple stood trial in 2016, arguing that MAS had not proved that Wang carried out the trades or intended to deceive the brokerages.

The penalties levied in Singapore are a fraction of recent penalties for market violations in China. A former stock market official was fined 251 million yuan ($36 million) by China’s securities regulator for illegal trading activities, while an ex-controller at Guangxi Future Technology Co. had a 3.47 billion penalty imposed in March.