Monday, April 18, 2011

Time for harsher penalties

There are many ways to destabilise or mismanage a company, and in Kenmark case, its top executive and directors from Taiwan went AWOL

There are many ways to destabilise or mismanage a company, and along the way, upset and annoy its minority shareholders.

In the case of Kenmark Industrial (M) Co Bhd, its top executive and directors from Taiwan went AWOL. The furniture maker's shares were sold down, losing some RM140 million of market value in a matter of days. The stock did bounce back, but not before a big damage was done and a new, "friendly" major shareholder was installed.

The latest file marked "How to upset your minority shareholders" involves Linear Corp Bhd. Initial company probe showed that one of its directors had used his autocratic rule to hand out RM36 million to a project owner/developer. The amount was an advance for a RM1.66 billion contract Perak Linear had secured from the developer, but appeared not viable.

Kenmark and Linear are among a list of listed companies that have run foul of corporate rules. Kimble Corp Bhd and Tat Sang Bhd are counted in the list, too.

Kimble, another Taiwan-owned furniture maker, breached a listing requirement in 2008 for failing to disclose in its fourth quarter 2007 results that it had made provision for doubtful debts of RM33.7 million.

Its managing director Datuk Yao Bor Bin and former executive director Yao Po Chen were fined by Bursa Malaysia a total of RM75,000 "for being ambiguous and inaccurate in the announcement". The company was delisted in April 2009.

Tat Sang, another furniture maker, shocked investors with its accounting irregularities and the disappearance of key management personnel back in 2002.

Its former managing director Lim Chai Hock was sentenced to five years' jail by the Sessions Court for making false statements to Bursa Malaysia. The sentence was revised by the High Court to a five months' jail and a fine of RM200,000 in default of two months' imprisonment.

Tat Sang was plagued with financial woes just a year after its listing in 2000. It was eventually delisted in 2003.

The point here is that once a corporate manipulator is caught and goes to court, make sure he (interestingly, women is almost or non-existent in the issue) is punished accordingly.

While our local stock market watchdogs, the Securities Commission particularly, may have been swift in their action, the punitive measures appear lenient on corporate manipulators.

Some have said in jest (or are they not kidding?) that our corporate punishments are the laughing stock among foreigners. Swindle loads of money from your company and leave the country, you can then come back and face the low-decibel music.

We may have read that a man was sentenced to 25 weeks in jail for stealing 80 pairs of women's panties. For mismanaging or embezzling millions of ringgit or causing hurt and grievance to many investors, you just get a fine or a brief spell in prison. Some balance in blue and white collar crimes, right? Is there a very fine line in steal, cheat or lie between a corporate man and an ordinary Joe?

In February 2006, it was reported that Fountain View Development Bhd former director Datuk Chin Chan Leong and ex-remisier were found guilty of share manipulation.

Chin was fined RM1.3 million or in default of 13 months' jail as well as sentenced to serve one day in prison for manipulating its share price seven years before.

Hiew Yoke Lan, a former Avenue Securities Sdn Bhd remisier, was fined RM1 million or 10 months default jail sentence for abetting Chin in the offence.

The offence was committed between November 18 2003 and January 20 2004. During this period, Fountain View stock had a low of RM1.99 and a high of RM6.15.

Back in November 2003, at a low of RM1.99, Fountain View carried a market capitalisation of RM885 million. At the peak of the share manipulation of around RM6.15, Fountain View carried a market capitalisation of RM2.73 billion!

If Datuk Seri Idris Jala can overhaul the various subsidies enjoyed by us, how hard can it be to review and slap the harshest possible punishment on corporate manipulators?

The above article is written by Zuraimi Abdullah of Business Times