More Morgan Stanley sackings: Who’s behind it?

Netty Ismail
13 Oct 06

Morgan Stanley asked two bankers to leave after distributing an e-mail critical of Singapore that cost Andy Xie, the firm’s former chief economist in Asia, his job, people with knowledge of the situation said.

Celicia Ong, a Singapore-based equity saleswoman, and Hani Abuali, a proprietary trader in Hong Kong, were asked to resign after they forwarded the e-mail, the three people said, asking not to be identified because the information is confidential. The e-mail was marked “internal” and should not have been distributed outside the bank, they said.

Ong’s clients included the Government of Singapore Investment Corp., the people said. GIC has placed more than $30 billion of state assets with fund management companies. Xie left New York-based Morgan Stanley on Sept. 29 after he characterized Singapore as an economic failure dependent on illicit money from Indonesia and China.

“We do not wish to comment,” GIC spokeswoman Loh Wei Ling said today, when asked whether they received the e-mail from Morgan Stanley or about its contents.

Morgan Stanley doesn’t comment on personnel issues, Cheung Po-ling, a spokeswoman, said by telephone from Hong Kong.

The departures were reported yesterday by capital markets news service IFR Asia, which said the two bankers’ resignations will be effective in January to ensure they receive their bonuses, citing a person it didn’t identify.

E-mails sent today to Ong, an executive director, and Managing Director Abuali’s Morgan Stanley addresses were bounced back. Abuali’s automated reply said that he will be “out of the office through Jan. 2, 2007” and referred queries to Scott Gaynor, a Hong Kong-based Morgan Stanley banker.

Merger Adviser

Gaynor declined to comment when contacted by telephone today, and said he wasn’t able to pass on Abuali’s contact details. There was no listing under the name Abuali in the Hong Kong telephone directory. Calls to the Singapore number of Celicia Ong, the only entry under that name, went unanswered.

Morgan Stanley ranks second as adviser on mergers involving Singapore companies this year, handling $6.5 billion of transactions, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It advised Temasek Holdings Pte., the Singapore government’s investment company, in the purchase of a 9.9 percent stake in Mumbai-based Tata Teleservices Ltd.

Morgan Stanley, the No. 4 arranger of stock sales in Asia outside Japan, hasn’t underwritten a Singapore deal this year, Bloomberg data show.

GIC, which manages more than $100 billion of Singapore’s reserves, has earned an average 9.5 percent a year since it was set up in 1981, Chairman Lee Kuan Yew said on July 11. Lee, 83, the founder of modern-day Singapore, remains in the country’s Cabinet today with the title of Minister Mentor.

His eldest son Lee Hsien Loong became Prime Minister in 2004 and Ho Ching, the younger Lee’s second wife, is the chief executive of Temasek.

Xie, a Shanghai-born economist who worked at Morgan Stanley for nine years, sent the e-mail to his colleagues after attending the International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings last month in the Southeast Asian island state. The economist questioned why Singapore was chosen to host the conference, and said delegates “were competing with each other to praise Singapore as the success story of globalization.”

Building Casinos

“Actually, Singapore’s success came mostly from being the money laundering center for corrupt Indonesian businessmen and government officials,” Xie wrote in the e-mail. “Indonesia has no money. So Singapore isn’t doing well.”

Singapore’s $118 billion economy is recovering from three recessions since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and is expecting growth of as much as 7.5 percent this year. The city- state is grappling with growing competition from China and India, two of the world’s most populous nations, where labor costs are less than a quarter of those in Singapore.

The Singapore government, which is ending a four-decade ban on casinos, plans to triple tourism revenue to $19 billion and double visitors to 17 million by 2015.

“To sustain its economy, Singapore is building casinos to attract corruption money from China,” said Xie, who ranked No. 2 among regional economists in a 2003 Asiamoney magazine survey.

Genting Bhd., Asia’s largest gaming operator by market value, Kerzner International Ltd. and Eighth Wonder yesterday submitted bids to build Singapore’s second casino on its southern island of Sentosa.

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