Envy Asset Management and its director Ng Yu Zhi have been making headlines in Singapore and beyond over an alleged billion-dollar nickel trading investment scam.
But what really happened? How did this seemingly successful young businessman go from being praised for his philanthropy to being charged with running the biggest Ponzi scheme in Singapore’s history?
In this exhaustive exposé, I’ll reveal the whole story behind the envy asset management scam based on court documents, news reports, and financial records. You’ll learn:
- How the scheme worked and how investors were tricked
- The scale of the fraud and total amount lost
- Ng Yu Zhi’s background and involvement
- Reviews and complaints from victims
- What authorities uncovered in their investigations
- Where the case stands now and what comes next
This is the most complete picture of events surrounding the envy asset management scandal to date. Read on to uncover the truth.
Overview of the Envy Asset Management Scam
Envy Asset Management Pte Ltd and its sister company Envy Global Trading Pte Ltd were founded and run by managing director Ng Yu Zhi starting around 2017.
The companies claimed to generate high investment returns for clients by purchasing nickel at discounted prices from Australian mining company Poseidon Nickel Limited. The nickel would then supposedly be sold on to commodity trading giants like BNP Paribas at a profit.
Based on this story, Envy Global Trading and Envy Asset Management raised over S$1 billion from around 300 investors between October 2017 to February 2021.
However, independent investigations found these nickel trades never took place. There was no discounted nickel being bought from Poseidon or sold on to BNP Paribas.
In reality, Envy Asset Management was operating as a fraudulent Ponzi scheme:
- Early investors were paid ‘returns’ to make the investment look legitimate and attract more victims
- Money from new investors went to pay ‘returns’ to earlier backers instead of any commodity trades
- Ng siphoned off large sums for himself instead of buying nickel
Eventually the scam collapsed when Envy could no longer afford to keep paying ‘returns’ to investors. Victims lost approximately S$1 billion when the scheme imploded.
Ng Yu Zhi was arrested in February 2021 and faces over 100 criminal charges including cheating and fraud. He’s potentially looking at over 20 years in jail if found guilty.
Let’s now examine exactly how this elaborate investment scam worked before it finally came crashing down.
The Envy Asset Management Backstory: How Did This Scam Take Off?
To understand how Ng Yu Zhi managed to pull off this brazen billion-dollar investment fraud, it helps to first understand his background and the genesis of Envy Asset Management.
Ng Yu Zhi was born in 1987 in Singapore. He did not excel academically, dropping out of his business management degree at a local polytechnic.
However, Ng proved to be an astute and ambitious entrepreneur. In his mid 20s he founded several food & beverage establishments that proved very successful like the upscale Cicada restaurant in Clarke Quay.
Ng cultivated an image as a young, dynamic businessman about town. He drove luxury sports cars, lived in a rented multi-million dollar bungalow with his wife and two young kids, and constantly posted images of his jet-setting lifestyle on social media.
He became involved in some philanthropic activities which further boosted his public profile. Unsuspecting investors would later admit they felt reassured by Ng’s positive public image.
The Envy business empire began around 2013 with Envy Asset Management focusing on exotic investments like fine art and wine. Ng brought on more investors by promising generous quarterly returns if they contributed minimum sums like S$50,000.
This model seemed to work well for several years. Envy Asset Management paid out regular dividends which convinced backers their money was being productively invested as promised.
Of course, in reality the funds had to keep flowing in from fresh victims for earlier investors to keep enjoying their ‘returns’ in this classic Ponzi arrangement.
The nickel commodity scam entered the picture in 2017 when Ng set up Envy Global Trading. He spun an elaborate tale about having direct contacts with executives at Australian nickel mining company Poseidon Nickel.
Through these supposed special connections, Envy Global Trading could purchase nickel at discounted rates of up to 30% lower than the London Metal Exchange’s market price. The nickel would then be quickly resold at a profit to commodity giants like Switzerland’s BNP Paribas.
This story, the gloss of respectability from Envy Asset Management’s track record, and promises of 15% quarterly returns proved an irresistible proposition for Singapore’s investment elite.
Lawyers, bankers, corporate executives – even a former president of the Law Society – backed Ng with nine-figure sums through Envy Global’s ‘nickel trading program’.
In reality not a single ounce of nickel was ever purchased. But Ng generated slick investment contracts to convince his victims their money was being used to buy physical nickel. Investors rolled over contracts to ‘reinvest’ their generous 15% quarterly returns.
Of course, these extraordinary investment gains were only possible by tapping into funds pouring in from newly-seduced investors. A classic Ponzi structure.
Ng also siphoned off large sums for himself rather than any commodity investments. For instance over S$70 million ended up funding his extravagant lifestyle via credit cards, luxury purchases, and casino payments.
But eventually the edifice collapsed when the house of cards could no longer be sustained…
Uncovering the Envy Asset Management Scam
Suspicions around Envy Asset Management and Envy Global Trading began surfacing in late 2020. Commodity industry executives were questioning why so much nickel trading supposedly linked to tiny Envy was happening.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore started investigating the businesses that November after a tip-off from BNP Paribas – the Swiss bank Envy claimed to sell nickel to.
BNP Paribas declared they had no nickel dealings whatsoever with Envy. This set off major alarm bells with regulators.
In February 2021 Singapore authorities raided Envy’s offices and arrested Ng Yu Zhi along with several associates.
Investigators uncovered the entire Ponzi scam centered around non-existent nickel trades. The Commercial Affairs Department seized assets from Ng worth over S$100 million including properties, luxury cars, watches, and cash.
In March 2021 prosecutors filed the first charges against Ng Yu Zhi for cheating and fraudulent trading of commodities. The counts would eventually rack up to over 100 criminal charges with penalties of up to 20 years in jail per offense.
The sheer scale of the fraud was breathtaking.
Losses amounted to S$1.5 billion suffered by around 300 Envy investors. Ng had received over S$500 million of those funds personally of which only about S$200 million was recovered.
Audits showed ridiculous sums had flowed freely through Ng’s scam companies including:
- S$1.46 billion received by Envy Global Trading and Envy Asset Management into their bank accounts
- S$300 million transferred to Ng Yu Zhi’s personal accounts
- S$73 million splashed out on credit cards alone
Investor money funded Ng’s lavish lifestyle with S$17 million going to casinos, S$3 million on luxury watches, and S$1.5 million to luxury car rental services.
Tens of millions were poured into real estate like a S$17.5 million penthouse Ng owned at the swanky Wallich Residence.
Ng had constructed such an elaborate fake trading structure that investigators were trying to figure out if he even actually understood commodities investing.
One investigator from Deloitte told Bloomberg “I am not sure if Ng even knows enough about metals trading”. Everything was forged purely to fuel his extravagant lifestyle funded by suckering in new investors.
While investors lost billions, the 34-year old Ng seemingly has little left to his name beyond some offshore assets of uncertain value.
In January 2023 Ng was declared bankrupt over outstanding debts, with investigations ongoing into recovered assets. His reputation lies in tatters along with the fortunes of hundreds swept up in his schemes.
So now Ng faces a long road of legal woes ahead. Let’s take a look at where his court case stands and what investors should expect as the saga continues…
Current Status of the Envy Case and What Comes Next
Since his initial arrest on 100+ criminal counts in early 2021, Ng Yu Zhi has remained on bail as his court case slowly advances.
In January 2023 Ng’s bail was raised to S$6 million on prosecution concerns he was an increasing flight risk with undisclosed overseas assets. However Ng has been temporarily remanded in custody since he could not raise the higher security amount.
Ng Yu Zhi now faces the stark reality his scam empire has completely collapsed. With his assets seized and massive debts incurred, he lacks the funds to even make bail as his trial looms.
Hundreds of investors cheated out of S$1.5 billion face an equally grim scenario trying to recover their vanished funds.
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