Friday, 13 April 2018

Foreign interference in Singapore politics: ACRA rejects company application from Thum Ping Tjin, Kirsten Han; says it has foreign funding links to George Soros

Purposes of proposed firm clearly political in nature: ACRA
It rejects company application, saying it has links to foreign funding from group with political agenda
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

An application by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han to register a company has been rejected on the grounds that the registration would be contrary to Singapore's national interests.

The Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) said yesterday that the purposes of the proposed company, OSEA Pte Ltd, "are clearly political in nature".

OSEA Pte Ltd, it said, has links to foreign funding from a group led by billionaire George Soros, which was set up to pursue a political agenda the world over.

ACRA noted that OSEA was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of a British-registered company called Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK).

OSEA UK has received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from a Swiss charitable entity, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said ACRA.

FOSI is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), founded and led by Mr Soros, it added.

In a statement, the authority said that what happens in other jurisdictions is not the concern of the Singapore Government.

"OSF and FOSI, and other foreign philanthropies and groups, can fund whatever causes they like elsewhere," it said.

"In Singapore, however, our position is that none of them can be allowed to fund Singaporean organisations or individuals participating in our domestic politics. The registration of OSEA Pte Ltd would therefore be contrary to Singapore's national interests.


ACRA said an application was made to register OSEA Pte Ltd on Feb 8. Dr Thum - a research fellow and coordinator of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford - was cited as its director and Ms Han its editor-in-chief.

Its proposed activities included organising discussion fora, workshops and other events in Singapore, such as "Democracy Classroom" sessions.

Another of its objectives was to provide editorial services to a website named New Naratif, which both are involved in.

ACRA said New Naratif has been publishing articles "critical of politics" in the region, such as articles claiming that certain governments are using violence to maintain political control, had manipulated events or framed them for political gain, and have "rigged" their electoral systems.

"The purposes of the proposed company are clearly political in nature," said ACRA.

Currently, OSEA UK owns and manages the New Naratif website, said the authority.

Dr Thum and British researcher Philip Kreager are listed as its directors and shareholders on the British government's company registry. Both men are trustees of Oxford's Project Southeast Asia.



ACRA said one of OSEA UK's stated objects is to "promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information and expression".

Of OSF, ACRA said it was "expressly established to pursue a political agenda the world over, and has a history of involvement in the domestic politics of sovereign countries".

For example, it is said to have provided financial backing to organisations opposing the Catholic Church's position in an upcoming referendum in Ireland.

It also sought to build upon legislation legalising same-sex marriage, and thereby also im-pacting other strongly Catholic countries in Europe.

It has reportedly funded organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Last year, Human Rights Watch published a report advocating changes to laws and the political system in Singapore, said ACRA.

Contacted yesterday, Ms Han said: "Speaking for myself, I only just found out about this, so I would like to seek legal advice before considering next steps."

Dr Thum did not reply to questions sent by e-mail. Both recently appeared before the Select Committee hearings on deliberate online falsehoods.



In response to queries, ACRA said that the information on grant funding to OSEA UK was provided by the applicant. It added that the application was rejected under Section 27(12A) of the Companies Act.

This states that an application can be rejected if the company is likely to be used for an unlawful purpose or for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare or good order in Singapore, or if it would be contrary to the national security or interest for the company to be registered. Applicants have 30 days to appeal.

Corporate lawyer Robson Lee, a partner at global law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said: "This is the first publicised case of a proposed incorporated entity having its application rejected due to foreign funding for domestic political activities."

Law don and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said that if a company could be set up as a subsidiary of a foreign entity which is known to engage in domestic politics, there is a legitimate concern that it could be a proxy for the foreign parent company.

"That would go against the Singapore Government's longstanding policy that domestic politics is only for Singaporeans to participate in," he said.





 





 





 





 





 




Key Players
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2018

OBSERVATORY SOUTHEAST ASIA (OSEA UK)

The company is registered in Britain, and was incorporated on April 28 last year.

Historian Thum Ping Tjin and British researcher Philip Kreager are listed as its directors and shareholders on the British government's company registry.

Both are trustees of Oxford University's Project Southeast Asia research project.

Dr Thum was most recently in the headlines for his appearance during the Select Committee hearings on deliberate online falsehoods.

He was questioned by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam for six hours over his account of Operation Coldstore in 1963, when more than 100 leftist unionists and politicians were arrested.



The research fellow at Oxford University had said in his submission to the committee that the Government had been the main source of falsehoods in Singapore, adding that there was no evidence that the detainees were involved in any violent communist conspiracy to overthrow it.

Dr Thum is also one of the three founders of the New Naratif website, which was founded last year and publishes articles on South-east Asia.

The other two are freelance journalist Kirsten Han and cartoonist Sonny Liew.

Yesterday, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority said OSEA UK owns and manages New Naratif. It also said OSEA UK has received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from Switzerland's Foundation Open Society Institute, which is closely associated with Open Society Foundations.





OPEN SOCIETY FOUNDATIONS (OSF)

OSF was started by billionaire investor George Soros in 1979.

Mr Soros was born in Hungary in 1930 and studied at the London School of Economics before emigrating to the United States. He found success on Wall Street and launched his own hedge fund, Soros Fund Management, in 1970.

The 88-year-old American has given more than US$30 billion to the OSF since 1984, according to its website.

The site says Mr Soros wanted to establish "open societies in place of authoritarian forms of government", and began by supporting scholarships for black students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and for Eastern European dissidents to study abroad.



In February, The Guardian reported that OSF had donated £400,000 (S$744,000) to the Best for Britain campaign, which advocates for Britain to remain in the European Union. OSF also reportedly gave cash to other anti-Brexit groups, including £182,000 to the European Movement UK and £35,000 to Scientists for EU.

OSF also provided a grant to Amnesty International Ireland for a campaign focused on reproductive rights and repealing the Eighth Amendment (the section of the Constitution that gives equal rights to the mother and the unborn).

Closer to home, Malaysian electoral reform group Bersih received one-time funding of RM70,000 (S$23,660) from the OSF between 2010 and 2011. Minutes of a 2015 meeting between OSF and some Malaysian groups leaked in 2016 showed the parties had discussed strategies for Malaysia's upcoming general election.

OSF also said in 2010 that it was giving US-based non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch US$100 million over 10 years.

Last December, Human Rights Watch published a 133-page report advocating changes to laws and the political system in Singapore.















Website New Naratif funded by a number of foreigners and clearly has a political agenda: ACRA
New Naratif rejects accusations that it is used by foreigners to pursue politics in Singapore; website has 420 subscribers in 17 countries
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

The website New Naratif, run by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han, has dismissed suggestions that it is being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore as "unfounded".

In a rejoinder last night, the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA), however, said that New Naratif "clearly has a political agenda", and had also confirmed that it received a grant from an entity linked to American billionaire George Soros.

In fact, it added, New Naratif's statement highlighted that it has received subscription fees from over 420 members in 17 countries.

ACRA said: "In other words, its political activities in Singapore would appear to be funded by a number of foreigners - not only foreign entities like OSF (Open Society Foundations), but also citizens of foreign countries."



The exchange of words comes a day after the authority said it had refused to register a company to be headed by Dr Thum and Ms Han, OSEA Pte Ltd, which aims to support New Naratif and run activities such as "Democracy Classroom" sessions.

This is because OSEA was to be a subsidiary of British-registered company OSEA UK, which had received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said ACRA. FOSI is closely associated with OSF, which is founded by Mr Soros and has a history of being involved in various countries' politics, ACRA added. "Singapore's politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine," it said.

But New Naratif said yesterday that the grant from FOSI was awarded on the basis of the website's project concept and "does not impose any conditions beyond goals that we defined ourselves".

"FOSI and OSF do not have any involvement or input in New Naratif's editorial decisions or the day-to-day running of our start-up," it said.



New Naratif also added that it is substantially supported by revenue from members, who pay subscription fees of between US$52 and US$552 per year. It has over 420 members in 17 countries, and has also received numerous donations from individuals, it said.

To this, ACRA said that even if it is true that FOSI or OSF - and possibly all of its foreign donors - are not involved in New Naratif's day-to-day running of the website, or its other activities, this "does not detract from the fact that the registration of OSEA Pte Ltd would amount to allowing a foreign entity or foreigners to fund and influence political activities in Singapore".

"This is contrary to Singapore's national interests," it reiterated.

It also refuted New Naratif's characterisation of its work as being "a platform for journalism, research, art or community building", saying that it is also known to have organised events such as workshops and "Democracy Classroom" sessions.

"New Naratif clearly has a political agenda," said ACRA.

Ms Han told The Straits Times yesterday that she and Dr Thum are seeking legal advice and considering the best course of action to take. She said they wanted to register OSEA in Singapore "so that we can operate in accordance with Singapore's regulations".

Registering a company limits an owner's financial liability to the capital that he has paid up if it loses money, said corporate finance lawyer Perry Yuen, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons MPillay.

This means that the individuals behind it cannot be made bankrupt, unless factors like fraud are involved.



Corporate lawyer Robson Lee, a partner at global law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said that registering as a company will also insulate discussions and meetings conducted by the organisation from being considered as unlawful assemblies.

Some of the options now available to OSEA include making an appeal to the Finance Minister within 30 days of ACRA's decision or seeking a judicial review, said the law experts.

For an appeal to be successful, or to successfully register as a company on a new application, OSEA has to do more than simply return the FOSI grant, said Mr Lee. It will have to convince the minister or the registrar that it will not affect the national security and interests of Singapore, for instance.

Ms Stefanie Yuen Thio, a joint managing partner at TSMP Law Corporation, said:. "You may not receive (a foreign grant) today, but what is going to stop you from taking foreign money tomorrow, for example?"

There could also be the option of filing a judicial review, said Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan. To do this, OSEA has to show that the decision-making process behind ACRA's rejection of its registration is flawed.

For instance, OSEA may have to prove that it is not a proxy for foreign influence. The ACRA registrar would then have to reconsider the application based on the court's ruling, he said.
















Foreign interests should not get involved in Singapore politics: Desmond Lee
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 13 Apr 2018

The contest of ideas and views on Singapore's politics and how to run the country should involve Singaporeans alone, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said yesterday.

That has been a longstanding principle of the Government - one that is supported by Singaporeans from all walks of life, he told reporters at an Early Childhood Development Agency event.

"Foreign interests should not directly or indirectly try to get involved in the politics that affects the lives of Singaporeans because it is our lives at stake... And it is important that Singaporeans be entirely responsible and take responsibility for our destiny," said Mr Lee.



His comments came a day after the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) rejected an application to register the company OSEA Pte Ltd, which was set up to provide editorial services to the website New Naratif, run by historian Thum Ping Tjin and freelance journalist Kirsten Han.

ACRA said allowing the registration would be contrary to Singapore's national interests, and noted that it has links to foreign funding.

OSEA Pte Ltd was to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of British-registered company Observatory Southeast Asia (OSEA UK), which received a US$75,000 (S$98,000) grant from the Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), said ACRA.

It added that FOSI is closely associated with Open Society Foundations (OSF), led by billionaire investor George Soros.

Mr Lee pointed out that OSF has "a history of involvement in other countries' domestic situation".

He cited how OSF attempted to manipulate views against the Catholic Church on controversial issues affecting the Irish, and also "purported to get involved in the politics of Malaysia".

"In this day and age, particularly where online falsehoods can be a tool of choice to involve yourself in other people's business...(Singaporeans have to) be in charge of our own destiny, and we seek Singaporeans' continued support for this principle," said Mr Lee.



The minister also acknowledged yesterday that some Singaporeans have "evinced a certain unease" about the way Dr Thum was challenged and questioned by Law Minister K. Shanmugam for nearly six hours during the public hearings held by the Select Committee on deliberate online falsehoods.

But it is important to recognise that this is how the Government builds robust discussions, he said.

In his written submission to the committee, Dr Thum had suggested that Operation Coldstore in 1963 was conducted for political purposes, and there was no evidence that those detained without trial were involved in any conspiracy to subvert the Government.

Mr Lee said that one should expect such statements to be challenged, in terms of the material and documents used to make those claims.

He added: "It cannot be that the Government takes a back seat and allows clear misrepresentations to go out in the public arena. That is something we hope that Singaporeans can understand, and also discern about these facts."






















Related
ACRA Media Statement - Rejection of application by OSEA Pte Ltd to register as a Private Company Limited by Shares -11 April 2018
ACRA Rejoinder to Statement from New Naratif -12 Apr 2018
Operation Coldstore and the perils of academic misinformation; History is not the preserve of historians
Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods Public Hearings: 27 - 29 March 2018

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