Singapore-registered firm accused of swindling S$1.2bil from 26,000 people in Japan’s largest scam


Office space registered to Sky Premium International at SBF Center in Tanjong Pagar appeared to be unoccupied when The Straits Times visited on Feb 27, 2024. - ST

TOKYO/SINGAPORE: A Singapore-registered company that promised its members the high life has come under scrutiny in Japan, where four of its top executives are under arrest on suspicion of swindling 135 billion yen (S$1.2bil) from 26,000 people.

Sky Premium International is alleged to have masterminded what is Japan’s largest scam in violation of the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act, according to Fukuoka Prefectural Police.

It is said to have acted as an investment advisory firm to peddle a financial product that it called “Lion Premium”, without the authorisation of Japan’s Financial Services Agency.

On Feb 22, Fukuoka Prefectural Police arrested four executives including Atsushi Saito, 45, who is identified in Japanese media reports as the company’s chief executive officer, and Shinobu Mizushima, 59, who is said to be the chief sales officer.

The arrests came after police reports were lodged in six prefectures, including Fukuoka, by investors who could not get back their investments. A series of civil lawsuits against Sky Premium are also pending before the courts, including in Hokkaido, Tokyo, and Osaka.

Under Japanese law, suspects can be detained for up to 23 days without indictment. The detention period, however, may be prolonged as they may be “re-arrested” on a different charge.

Sky Premium’s current registered address on the 27th floor of SBF Center in Shenton Way, in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District, appeared unoccupied when The Straits Times visited on Feb 27.

The front door was locked and the lights were turned off. From the outside, the office appeared spartan, with a white sign that read “Sky Premium”. There was no doorbell.

Three office workers on the same floor told ST that they had never seen the office being used. One of them had seen people going in and out of the unit only when the company first moved in.

Business records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority show that Sky Premium International was incorporated in February 2013, and moved to the SBF Center in June 2022. Its director is listed as Mr Tan Albert, a Singapore citizen.

When ST visited his listed home address – an HDB flat in Serangoon – on Feb 27, a middle-aged man who identified himself as Mr Tan answered the door and acknowledged that he was the director of Sky Premium.

However, he repeatedly told ST that he was unaware of allegations against the company and insisted that queries be directed to his CEO.

Sky Premium is said to have begun operations in Japan in 2013 before launching in Singapore in 2018, when it was billed as the Republic’s first invitation-only “exclusive privileges club”, according to a report in a luxury publication.

At the time, it charged an annual fee of $1,200, with members receiving a welcome package that included a 1g certified gold ingrained membership card and access to its facilities, which were then on the top floor of One Raffles Place. Since December 2023, the top two levels, 61 and 62, of One Raffles Place have been entirely occupied by nightlife venue HighHouse.

With the tagline, The Good Life – Live The Life Of Your Dreams, the club promised members a concierge service that included private dining experiences, discounts on luxury brands and resorts, and fresh seafood and groceries flown direct from Tokyo’s Toyosu fish market.

The company, which claims involvement in foreign exchange margin trading, has been described by the Japanese media as a “pyramid scheme” and an illegitimate “multi-level marketing scheme”.

Japan’s Financial Services Agency said that Sky Premium is suspected to have wooed investors in Japan via a network of about 570 salespeople, or “agents”, who held full-time jobs with social clout, such as bank officers and flight attendants.

These recruiters themselves were allegedly investors too, enticed to join on the promise of a surefire return. Agents claimed that Sky Premium never once had a negative return, with an annual percentage yield of up to 20 per cent, and that the money could be taken out at any time.

The scale of the purported scam was so wide that police in six prefectures including Fukuoka, Hiroshima and Osaka have set up a joint investigation headquarters to probe the case, with Fukuoka police leading the joint investigation headquarters.

Police are now looking into the money trail, suspecting that the funds may have been funnelled into a bank account in the company’s name in Hong Kong. The police do not yet know if the money was actually used for forex trading, or was siphoned off for other purposes, Japanese media said.

An unnamed business owner in Fukuoka told public broadcaster NHK that she began investing in Sky Premium in 2020, as the company ran into financial troubles amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

An “agent” used golf sessions and high-end lunches to woo her and her husband into putting 17.5 million yen into Sky Premium, she said, adding that the members-only portal had shown figures indicating that the business was profitable.

Sky Premium also held online seminars during the pandemic. During one of these sessions, titled “How to avoid fraud when investing”, a chiropractor in his 30s in the western city of Okayama was persuaded to invest in the company, according to Japanese media.

In December 2021, the Tokyo District Court issued a suspension order on Sky Premium, following a complaint from Japan’s Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission.

Sky Premium’s Singapore website has been taken offline, though its Japan website remained accessible as at Feb 28. The company’s social media accounts, meanwhile, have not been updated since 2022.

ST has sent queries to the Singapore police. - The Straits Times/ANN

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Singapore , Japan , scam , Sky Premium

   

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