WORKING on investigative stories can be rewarding, but there are hazards.
Sometime in mid-2009, I was told to follow up on complaints from the public concerning a certain gold trading firm whose directors are now scot-free after having been acquitted of various charges of money laundering and illegal deposit collections involving billions of ringgit.
Incidentally, today is the anniversary of the acquittal of the directors and companies connected to this firm. The High Court also upheld the acquittal last September. These directors were charged under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act, as well as the Banking and Financial Institutions Act.
I remember the call I made to the gold trading firm to ask for comments on the allegations made against it, such as having debased gold that even goldsmiths would not accept, or that payments that were supposed to be made monthly being paid every three months.
The official who answered my call was naturally suspicious, not believing that the call came from a reporter. He said the complaints were not legitimate. Before he hung up, he said: “You’re fishing in very deep waters”. I will always remember those words. Everytime I read about this firm, I recall those words very clearly.
But this was not the end of it. Some weeks later, I got a call from the same official who said that he had a legal letter for me. He said he would deliver it to me himself. I waited for him at the Menara Star lobby, and he came with perhaps half a dozen other men. With me was the late executive editor Soo Ewe Jin in whom I had confided about my worries over the story and the possible repercussions, especially over safety issues.
I had to sign a document to acknowledge that I had received the letter, and I recalled clearly that the men crowded over me in an intimidating manner as I hunched over the receptionists’ counter to sign. The diminutive Ewe Jin was standing next to me peering over my shoulder.
Needless to say, I was worried following the incident. The chief precaution I took from then on was to park as near to the carpark lobby doors as possible in case I needed to make a quick getaway into the safety of the office. I mentioned these worries to one of the news editors and he told me: “Don’t worry lah, nothing will happen to you in the office.” I said it was not something happening in the office that I was worried about, but something happening outside of it.
The dust has settled over this scheme although I wonder what has happened to all the gold coins impounded for the investigation. Right up to May last year, The Star was still publishing letters from readers asking when the gold coins that they had invested in would be returned.
Now, the focus is on foreign exchange or forex schemes that have sprouted up in recent years, claiming to give amazing returns. These schemes have tens of thousands of investors and involve billions of ringgit. Uncovering many of these scams have certainly not wisened people up to such activities. Greed certainly makes people blind to the risks and pitfalls of such scams!