Singapore

Acra rejects firm with links to foreign funding

Bid to register company thrown out because its purpose is 'clearly political'

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 the purposes of the proposed company, OSEA Pte Ltd, "are clearly political in nature".

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

Acra noted OSEA was to be a wholly owned subsidiary of British-registered company OSEA UK, which has received a grant of US$75,000 (S$98,000) from a Swiss charitable entity, Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI).

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.

"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," it said.

"Singapore's politics should be for Singaporeans alone to determine. We should not allow foreigners to interfere in how we should govern our country. Nor should we allow any group of Singaporeans to lend themselves to being used by foreigners to pursue a political activity in Singapore."

Acra said an application was made to register OSEA 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 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.

NEW NARATIF

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 the University of Oxford's Project Southeast Asia research project.

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".

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 hearing on deliberate online falsehoods.

In response to queries, Acra said that the information on grant funding to OSEA UK was provided by the applicant.

Mr 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 lecturer and former Nominated MP Eugene Tan said if a company could be set up as a subsidiary of a foreign entity that 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 partitipate in."

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