Is Presidential hopeful George Goh the man he say he is?

Aug 04, 2023 | 🚀 Fathership AI

There's considerable chatter about whether 63-year-old George Goh Ching Wah, who is hoping to be Singapore's next President - the highest office of the land - is the man for the job.


  • George claims ownership of a vast portfolio of companies, but ACRA records reveal that many of these companies are dormant or wound up.
  • His principal company, Ossia International, is facing financial instability and is on the SGX watchlist.
  • His past association with Portcullis TrustNet, known for offshore activities and anti-money laundering violations, raises concerns, particularly regarding circular accounting.
  • George's role in Harvey Norman's Asian expansion raises questions about the reliability of his involvement
  • This article questions his suitability for the Singapore Presidency and raises concerns about his fiscal responsibility.

2. Questionable association with wealth management company

An online probe into George's affairs reveals his inclusion in a 2013 Offshore Leaks database by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), disclosing details of approximately 130,000 offshore accounts.

2.1 George's Companies in the British Virgin Islands The records list George as a director or shareholder for multiple companies registered in the British Virgin Islands, many of which were defunct or in the process of deregistration as of 2010.

2.2 Legitimate Uses of Offshore Accounts for Businesses Businesses often leverage offshore accounts for various reasons, including global operations and potential tax advantages. The presence of an offshore account doesn't inherently suggest tax evasion or any unlawful activities.

2.3 George's Businesses Administered by Portcullis TrustNet George's businesses, and by extension, his wealth, rely on Portcullis TrustNet, a company founded and led by David Chong, known as the "Guru of Asian Family Offices" according to the Singapore Academy of Law.

The company specialises in setting up offshore companies and trusts and describes itself as a ‘one stop destination’ for wealthy individuals to manage their money. Their staffs include lawyers, accountants and other professionals who can shape ‘secrecy packages’ to fit the needs and net worth of its clients.

David once said, referencing another source, "Whether poor and humble or wealthy and noble, a person has the legal right to pay the least tax possible."

The ICIJ's documents dates back to 2010. Whether there is still a working relationship between George's business and Portcullis is not currently known.

3. Portcullis Trustnet shady past

3.1 Portcullis' Administrative Penalty and Regulatory Breaches Portcullis faced an administrative penalty of US$205,500 for violating multiple aspects of the Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Code of Practice 2008, including policy failures, inadequate risk assessments, and shortcomings in customer due diligence.

3.2 ICIJ's Findings: American Clients Involved in Financial Misconduct ICIJ's analysis of Portcullis documents revealed nearly 30 American clients involved in lawsuits or criminal cases related to fraud, money laundering, and serious financial misconduct. Notably, individuals such as Paul Bilzerian, convicted of tax fraud and securities violation, and Rajaratnam, an imprisoned billionaire hedge fund manager convicted of insider trading, were on the list.

3.3 Portcullis Implicated in Offshore Tax Evasion In 2013, Portcullis was implicated as one of the offshore service providers utilized by corporations and high-net-worth individuals to evade taxes.

3.4 Portcullis' Defends Itself David, in response to allegations, likened Portcullis to Victorinox knives, stating that blaming Victorinox for a knife being used in a crime would be absurd. He asserted that the firm complies with all regulations in the jurisdictions where it operates.

4. Background on George Goh Ching Wah

4.1 George's Role George serves as the Group Executive Chairman of Ossia International, an SGX-listed investment holding company run in conjunction with his brothers, Steven Goh Ching Huat and Joe Goh Ching Lai.

4.2 From Footwear Manufacturer to Apparel and Sporting Goods Importer Established in 1982, the company started off as a footwear manufacturer and now deals in the import and distribution of apparel and sporting goods primarily in Taiwan through its own subsidiary Great Alps Industry Co. Ltd .

4.3 SGX Watchlist Ossia found itself added to the SGX watchlist on 5 December 2017 due to consecutive years of pre-tax losses and failing to maintain an average daily market capitalisation of at least S$40 million. The Company was granted 4 extensions since 4 December 2020 until 4 December 2023 to meet the requirements for removal from the watchlist or it could be forced to delist.

4.4 George plays down watchlist concerns When asked whether he was worried that Ossia International is on Singapore Exchange (SGX)'s watchlist would affect his chances to run for the presidency, George said:

"It is only one of (the) listed companies. The watchlist is talking about the main board, and you need to be crossing S$40 million (in the average daily market capitalisation over the last six months). I think we (are) now at S$58 million. That is only one of the companies (under my name). It is not going to affect my eligibility."

As of June 2023, Ossia International has a market capitalisation of about S$45 million after several years struggling to make the number. However, it needs to maintain this cap for at least six months to be able to apply to be taken off the watchlist.

5. More 'Broker' than Founder?

5.1 George's Role in Harvey Norman's Singapore Expansion George's role in bringing Harvey Norman to Singapore warrants clarification. While the public perception portrays him as a key figure in the success of Harvey Norman in Singapore, his actual role appears to be more of a facilitator, with operational management led by the majority stakeholder, Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd. of Australia.

5.2 Distinct Entities Two distinct entities are involved: Harvey Norman Singapore Pte Ltd (HNS) and Harvey Norman Ossia Pte Ltd (HNO). HNS is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gerry Harvey's Harvey Norman Holdings Ltd.

5.3 Collaboration and Ownership Structure: HNS and HNO Joint Venture HNS and George's Ossia collaborated to establish HNO, a S$33 million joint venture where HNS held a majority share of 60% and George possessed a minor stake of 40%.

5.4 Challenging the Public Image: Contrasting George's Role as the 'Founder' HNS oversees the core business operations and Asian expansion, while HNO primarily acts as - simply speaking - an administrative facilitator.

5.6 Acquisition of Pertama Holdings Nonetheless, George played a part in the acquisition of Pertama Holdings through the joint venture. Pertama, a struggling consumer electronics retail chain with six stores in Singapore, was acquired by the joint venture and subsequently rebranded as Harvey Norman. This strategic move marked the beginning of Harvey Norman's expansion journey in Asia.

George's Ossia presently holds a 19.8% stake in Pertama Holdings Pte. Ltd , where he is the Executive Deputy Chairman. Pertama was forced to delist from SGX after it was suspended for more than a year due to low trading volume from retail investors.

6. George's brother runs the shop at Ossia

6.1 The Conductor George's brother, Steven Goh Ching Huat, manages the day-to-day operations and has a critical role in implementing the company's strategies and policies. He is also involved in the overall management of the Group's businesses.

6.2 The Planner George, on the other hand, is primarily responsible for board proceedings, strategic planning, and business development.

6.3 The Driving Force While George, the Group Executive Chairman, plays a role in setting the strategic direction, it is Steven, the CEO who oversees the daily operations, making the strategies come to life, which is pivotal in any business. Hence, one could say that Steven is the one who 'runs' the shop.

6.4 Constitutional Prerequisites Given the constitutional prerequisites for a Presidential candidate in Singapore, it is imperative to question whether George meets the stipulated criteria.

Specifically, a candidate must have served at least three years in a key role within the private sector, and the Presidential Elections Committee (PEC) must be convinced that the individual possesses "experience and ability comparable" to that of someone who has satisfied Article 19(4)(a). This article demands a minimum of three years of service as a Chief Executive of a company, with a shareholder equity of at least S$500 million.

6.5 Does George make the cut? One must ask: does his experience and ability align with the requirements set by the Constitution? Is his track record demonstrative of the ability to manage a large corporate business at the scale specified?

According to Ossia Annual Report 2022, the board meets on a half-yearly basis - unusual for a company under the watch list according to industry observers. Interestingly, only 2 attendance recorded at every board meeting, which suggest that the meetings are just paper exercises.

7. More scrutiny needed

The rhetoric surrounding George's entrepreneurial accomplishments may have painted a picture of prosperity, but on another look, it tells a different story. This dissonance calls for a deeper dive into the operations, finances, and overall health of these enterprises, and ultimately the veracity of George's claims.

As the public weighs his potential presidential candidacy, the integrity of his business achievements could prove to be a deciding factor. Hence, a more thorough examination of his corporate portfolio is imperative. His ability to steer a nation hinges not just on the quantity of his ventures, but more critically, on their quality and success.

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Mar 05, 2023 | 🚀 Fathership AI










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