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When the boss is not always right: S’pore CEOs who were suspended due to alleged improper acts

CEO suspended

Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) hold heavy responsibilities. They are the highest-ranking person in a company or institution and are ultimately responsible for top managerial decisions.

Excluding the board of directors, the CEO is like an administrator who has a complete view of the company. For small companies, he or she may report to himself or herself, if the person is the founder too. In larger companies, the CEO may often have to discuss key business decisions with and answer to investors and the board of directors.

For one person to hold the responsibilities of checking the overall operations of a firm, while having to delegate, direct agendas, strategise, and drive profitability, it’s obvious why CEOs are seen as “bosses” in the companies.

But then sometimes the “boss” is not always right. Other times, these “bosses” who cannot control or work well with the company may end up being ousted from the team, on grounds of alleged improper acts.

We take a look at Singapore CEOs who got suspended from their post due to alleged misconduct.

Ankiti Bose – Zilingo

In 2019, Zilingo had raised US$226 million in a fundraise led by Sequoia Capital, Temasek, and Burdal Principal Investments, giving it a US$970 million valuation.

The B2B retail platform co-founded by CEO Ankiti Bose and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) Dhruv Kapoor in 2015 was said to be raising US$150 million to US$200 million recently. The deal would help it become the next unicorn with a valuation of over US$1 billion.

But the process to raise funds required due diligence processes to check the company’s account books. The process manifested into a probe into financial irregularities that involved the firm’s CEO and Co-Founder Ankiti.

Image Credit: Bloomberg

Ankiti was suspended on Mar 31 this year, and the company’s various board of directors, which includes names like Shailendra Singh, the Managing Director of Sequoia India, quit. The news came after the departures of Temasek Holdings’ Xu Wei Yang and Burda Principal Investments’ Albert Shyy.

Ankiti was suspended following alleged involvement in financial irregularities, but the Co-Founder and CEO called the suspension a “witch hunt” after she raised complaints of sexual harassment against some colleagues and company management.

Ankiti is a St Xaviers College graduate who worked as a Management Consultant at McKinsey before moving to Sequoia India. She then worked with Dhruv to turn her fashion tech idea into a business, which led to the birth of Zilingo.

Due to the management uncertainty and the lack of outcome on the investigation on Ankiti, some lenders recalled their entire loan amount. The co-founder offered to pay up the debt of US$40 million owed to the lenders, but that’s likely to face some resistance from the board as the move will allow her to gain more equity and control in the company. Ankiti currently owns around 8.3 per cent of Zilingo.

Image Credit: Bloomberg

In the latest update on this saga last week, Ankiti was fired from the CEO post. The company said it decided to terminate her employment with cause and “it reserves the right to pursue appropriate legal action”.

“The investigation has concluded that the company took appropriate action and followed due process to address these complaints that were brought to their notice, contrary to media reports that have suggested that the suspension and investigation into Ankiti Bose were aimed at suppressing the said harassment claims,” Zilingo said.

According to news articles, the company has enough cash in the bank to sustain it for the next 15 to 18 months. Zilingo said that more information circulating the saga will be provided in due course.

Alain Ong – Pokka

The CEO at beverage company Pokka was suspended from his position in a management shake-up back in 2018.

The suspension was part of an internal audit on the firm’s international marketing arm, Pokka International.

Alain was replaced by Reiko Shofu, who was Group CEO of Pokka Corporation (Singapore). The Pokka companies are local subsidiaries of Japanese conglomerate Sapporo Holdings. Alain was also holding the Director post in Pokka International and Pokka Corporation (Singapore).

Image Credit: Pokka

The management reshuffle was done to ensure that operations would not be affected during the audit, according to Pokka.

Alain joined Pokka in 2006. After the suspension, he was no longer authorised to represent Pokka International and Corporation (Singapore).

Then Pokka ambassador Vivian Lai, who is the wife of Alain and also an actress in Singapore, was endorsing the brand for at least a decade. In 2012, Shin Min reported that Vivian had inked a S$1 million deal to be an ambassador for the beverage maker.

Image Credit: The New Paper, Instagram

In 2020, Pokka Singapore settled a S$10 million lawsuit against Alain. Pokka said he was involved in a conspiracy that caused the company to suffer S$10 million in losses and claimed the former CEO had worked with others to divert business to drinks manufacturer Asian Story Corporation.

The company said Alain had breached his duties as their Director and employee.

Last year, Alain was charged in court on three counts under the Companies Act. Violations under the Act are criminal offenses, and he could face jail of up to 12 months or a fine of up to S$5,000 if convicted.

Melvin Goh – EuroSports

Last August, the Executive Chairman and CEO of luxury car distributor EuroSports Global was investigated by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).

Melvin Goh Kim San had his phone retained as part of the investigation, EuroSports said in a Singapore Exchange filing. Melvin was suspended from his duties amid the investigation by CAD. The CEO who was also Executive Chairman and Director of the firm “voluntarily agreed” to step down.

The company was served to produce documents to assist the investigation. The probe involves a Memorandum of Understanding deal the company had with a Hong Kong firm four years ago that did not materialise.

Image Credit: Alamy

When the probe happened, Melvin’s son, Joshua Goh took up the role of deputy CEO and Director of EuroSports Technologies, a subsidiary. Melvin’s brother, deputy CEO Andy Goh took over as interim Executive Chairman and CEO.

Melvin formed EuroSports Auto in 1998 to import vehicles. It clinched an exclusive deal with luxury supercar brand Lamborghini subsequently.

In December last year, Melvin was arrested by CAD. But he was released an hour later on a bail of S$50,000. EuroSports’s nominating committee and the board issued a note saying that they have concluded that Melvin should continue his duties and retain his positions, given that he has not been charged with any offense so far and has been cooperating with investigations.

Melvin is the main person handling the Lamborghini account and the relationship he has with the company is key to the dealership in Singapore, the group said.

The company called Melvin’s leadership “crucial” to direct them out of its financial setback caused by Covid-19.

Dr Ang Peng Tiam – TalkMed

TalkMed’s CEO Dr Ang Peng Tiam was suspended for eight months by the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) after alleged professional misconduct in 2017.

The charges against Dr Ang came after there was a complaint against him from the daughters of a former patient. 

The SMC disciplinary tribunal found the doctor guilty of false representation to the lung cancer patient that there was a 70 per cent chance of responding to the treatment and the failure to offer surgery as an option.

Image Credit: The Independent

The SMC had raised the punishment from a S$25,000 fine to a suspension. His sentence was enhanced due to “multiple aggravating factors”, including his seniority in the firm.

Dr Ang accounts for a lion’s share of the Catalist-listed firm’s revenue.

Dr Ang’s cases were handed over to his colleagues including the Chief Operating Officer (COO) Dr Khoo Kei Siong. The team of 12 specialist doctors had to continue as usual and took steps to minimise disruptions to patients and the business.


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Featured Image Credit: Pokka, Zilingo, EuroSports, TalkMed

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