More resignations at Singapore firm linked to Newcastle United bidders


SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Several directors resigned from a Singaporean firm linked to bidders for soccer club Newcastle United on Tuesday, the latest hiatus for the bidding group since Reuters reported doctored photos of Barack Obama were among various suspect claims it had made.

The resignations from consultancy Axington, owned by Singaporean cousins Terence and Nelson Loh, included its chairman, Chinese jeweller Evangeline Shen, according to filings with the exchange.

The Lohs and Shen are the co-founders of newly formed Bellagraph Nova Group (BN Group), which said last month it was in advanced talks to buy Newcastle. It has described itself as a "conglomerate" with turnover last year of $12 billion (8.95 billion pounds).

The board exits follow the former U.S. ambassador to Singapore's decision to quit the firm as its stock price sank last week and came as the company said it plans to make "strategic changes" in its "business direction".

Reuters reported on Aug 22 that BN Group had admitted to doctoring photos of former U.S. President Obama in marketing materials and had released other information about the group prematurely or in error.

Local Singapore media subsequently reported other inconsistencies in claims made on the group's website, press releases and social media posts, which the firm said "appears to be the result of the actions of certain errant individuals".

Many of those press releases have since been deleted, its social media accounts have been deactivated and a password is now required to view BN Group's website.

In other recent developments, luxury jewellery brand Bulgari has refuted the group's claims of a business association, and Singapore's Business Times newspaper reported some regional investors were trying to withdraw investments from other BN group entities.

BN Group did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. It was quoted by the Straits Times newspaper saying it will appoint independent legal counsel to investigate the posting of the marketing material and will not address any further media queries until investigations are completed.

The Singapore Exchange's regulatory arm last week called for a probe of Axington's directors "in light of recent developments", shortly before the company postponed a shareholder meeting saying it needed time to review its plans.

At that meeting, shareholders had been due to vote on switching Axington's business to medical services and robotics, and change its name to NETX, a firm that BN Group had heavily marketed as one of its entities.

Also among Tuesday's four resignations was executive director Marjory Loh, Terence Loh's sister, who cited "recent intense public scrutiny on the company" for stepping down, according to filings with the Singapore Exchange.

A spokeswoman for Singapore's corporate regulator ACRA has also said it is taking enforcement action on two other companies linked to the Lohs for not filing annual returns.

(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Neil Fullick)

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