In his first interview with Splash since revealing he is the main man behind Iceberg Research, Arnaud Vagner has lashed the Singapore Exchange (SGX) for its “prehistoric” regulatory environment.
Vagner, formerly a senior credit analyst at Singapore-listed commodities firm Noble Group, revealed his connection with Iceberg Research in an interview with Bloomberg last week.
Since Iceberg Research started filing reports on Noble, comparing the Singapore-listed company to Enron, in 2015, Noble’s net worth has plummeted by around $10bn to stand at just $115m. In five days’ shareholders will vote on Noble’s restructuring plan, something Vagner has attacked in recent days.
Vagner has repeatedly claimed Noble inflated the value of its assets in fraudulent annual reports, and authorities in Singapore should have done more to clamp down on the Hong Kong-based company’s activities.
“The regulatory environment of the SGX is prehistoric,” Vagner told Splash, adding: “The problems are structural, not superficial. The functions of stock exchange and regulator have to be separated. Putting the onus on the auditor and expecting them to behave is absurd.”
Vagner went on to compare Noble to bust American energy firm Enron and investment con artist Bernie Madoff.
Vagner had specific criticism for Tan Boon Gin, the head regulator of SGX, saying he had lied when he claimed he did not who Iceberg was, questioning the research firm’s authority. Vagner said he has had multiple conversations with SGX and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).
“A regulator who lies cannot decently keep his job. His presence undermines the credibility of the stock exchange,” Vagner told Splash.
Vagner is adamant that Noble’s restructuring plan should not be given the green light by shareholders when they vote on August 27.
“The new Noble is not viable financially,” Vagner said.
The SGX has responded to Vagner’s claims, pointing out that last year it established the Singapore Exchange Regulation (SGX RegCo) as an independent regulatory subsidiary of SGX.
“The formation of SGX RegCo is aimed at enhancing the governance of SGX as a self-regulatory organisation. It makes more explicit the segregation of SGX RegCo’s regulatory functions from SGX’s commercial and operating activities,” a spokesperson for the exchange told Splash.
SGX RegCo also undertakes all front-line regulatory functions and has a separate board of directors from SGX.
SGX executives also pointed out the many actions it has taken with regards to Noble since 2015, including the the appointment of PwC to conduct an independent MTM review, which found that Noble’s accounting practices adhered to international financial reporting standards and standard industry practices.
“We have done all that we can, within our powers as a regulator, to ensure that Noble provides the necessary information/disclosure and takes appropriate steps that are in the interests of shareholders and are continuing to do our part. Our role is to check that Noble fulfills its obligations as a listed company in accordance to the listing rules; if it has not, we will take action,” a source at SGX told Splash by email.
Commenting on Vagner’s assertions, Julie O’Connor, an Australian who has campaigned for many years for greater transparency among Singapore-listed entities, told Splash: “I totally agree what is said in relation to the SGX and am pleased that finally someone else gets what’s happening in Singapore and is prepared to speak up. We need more organisations such as Iceberg Research to protect investors in Singapore and more investigative journalists.”
O’Connor is currently writing a book about her experiences with investments in Singapore.
“My advice to anyone thinking of investing either in shares or a business in Singapore, is if you don’t have the funds to take on a legal battle in Singapore, you are putting yourselves at risk. You may not be able to rely on the regulatory bodies to assist you, should trouble arise. Also, bear in mind, it is very risky to blow the whistle whilst in Singapore,” O’Connor said.
Noble has yet to reply to questions sent by Splash.