Net Zero Failure, Zero Sum Defamation and the Road to Rebuilding

I’ve always been of the view that a barking dog will bark; let it bark. After nearly four years, I’m rethinking that strategy. One can only turn the other cheek for so long…….

In 2014 I set out to create a net-zero hospitality company. Despite pouring all my energy, my capital and others, the company failed. Many factors were responsible, including, of course, COVID-19. The following is the story of an embittered investor who let their perspective warp the truth and attempt to destroy my reputation.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic with strict lockdowns, the IDPM Group, a net-zero hospitality company, entered liquidation. Since then, I have successfully deflected two frivolous lawsuits brought against me in Singapore. 

Unfortunately, because of their loss in the Singapore legal system, a group of disgruntled investors enlisted Edward Cowley, a journalist; outside the jurisdiction for me to seek legal recourse quickly, to misrepresent the facts and defame me.

In the article, Edward himself confirms that the authorities will not take action. Perhaps Edward was paid by the same group of disgruntled investors who could not get what they wanted through complaints to the Singapore authorities, the Singapore legal system and even control of the liquidation. 

Perhaps the authorities and the courts found no evidence of wrongdoing and recognised that a business failure is a far cry from fraud. 

We built an engineering business for hotels & resorts with backing from a diverse group of investors, transitioning hotel properties to net zero through clean energy, clean water & zero waste.  We employed over 100 staff, with offices in ASEAN that delivered multiple active contracts with global brands.  Investors confirmed all these and more as part of their due diligence process.

In the aftermath of this business failure during the COVID-19 pandemic, some investors were quick to assign blame.  Accusations of fraud levied against me are nothing more than a hindsight-driven afterthought, disregarding that these investors willingly agreed with my thesis after conducting thorough due diligence. I presented them with an opportunity, and they decided to invest based on their assessments.

Investors understood the high risks associated with investing in developing countries.  As such, the increased risks taken were compensated by high-interest rates on the bonds.  Some investors recouped up to 30% of their investment through interest payments.

Behind much of this smear campaign is a late fifties mercurial former journalist, a US citizen currently living in Japan, whom I shall name “Joe” for legal reasons.  

In 2014, Joe approached me through IDPM to seek my consulting expertise for his business opportunities in the Karen State of Burma.  Between 2014 and 2017, I was hired by Joe and paid to work under Joe’s authority, following his instructions since he controlled the business. The relationship breakdown started in 2017 as Joe consistently made decisions and requests that imposed financial costs and ongoing liabilities on others.

In Thailand, Joe left a trail of broken promises. Joe asked a woman who ran a local café in Mae Sot to set up a local joint bank account and import items illegally, causing significant stress for her. Additionally, he commissioned goods he never paid for and failed to fulfil his commitments, leaving others to bear the consequences.

In Burma in early 2018, Joe promised to fund the care of orphan bear cubs but never made any payments, leaving other bleeding hearts like me to shoulder the responsibility. In Singapore, Joe left me with ongoing liabilities of multiple companies and avoided his corporate responsibilities, confirming a pattern of unfulfilled promises. He even signed subscription agreements without intent to fulfil them yet wanted the rights and interests of being a shareholder or a director.

Joe’s background as a former journalist equipped him with media manipulation skills, and he likely used his connections to launch this smear campaign to tarnish my reputation. Things came to a head in mid-2018, and I severed ties for the sake of the project and my mental health.

Weeks later, I was approached by a couple of the investors asking me to reconcile for the sake of the project; I agreed with their view and reached out to Joe to settle our differences. He refused to engage despite multiple attempts and through contact and applying pressure to investors he had brought into the project.

Despite my attempts at reconciliation for the sake of the project, Joe initiated a campaign against me, damaging my reputation through various means.

His behaviour and broken commitments had a detrimental impact on the projects and relationships involved. In essence, he poisoned the ground, even though we had delivered on the Surveying & Master planning for Mu Aye Pu. 

In mid-2019, attempts were made to raise additional capital, but complications arose due to the convertible bonds. The bonds lacked a legal mechanism to convert to equity automatically, affecting the capital raise. Due to Joe’s campaign against me, some of the bondholders had become hostile; without majority consent from bondholders to convert the bonds to equity, we could not raise new equity as new investors would not invest in the debt-laden group.

Despite the challenges, the business presented opportunities for global scalability with international brands. Negotiations continued throughout 2019 and into early 2020. We finally originated an offer to pay the bondholders out and leave a small amount for the shareholders.

Unfortunately, with COVID-19 taking hold of the global economy, it became apparent by April 2020 that the deal would not proceed. As a result, the group faced insolvency, impacted by the unprecedented challenges in the hotel industry during COVID-19. 

While I accept that in any failed business, there will be investors who need to complain as part of their grief and that a barking dog will bark, I warn all now that I won’t hesitate to take legal action against those who continue to defame me, no matter the jurisdiction.