Julian Robertson-seeded Tiger Asia fund runs afoul of SFC

Hong KongÆs Securities & Futures Commission seeks to freeze the assets of Tiger Asia and its senior officers, including portfolio manager Bill Hwang.

This is one Asian tiger that may have lost its stripes. The Hong Kong Securities & Futures Commission has applied for an injunction order to freeze the assets of New York-based Tiger Asia, as well as the assets of its three senior officers: Bill Hwang Sung-kook, Raymond Park and William Tomita.

The fund is one of many Tiger-branded funds that have been seeded by the original Tiger Fund daddy, Julian Robertson. Hwang's Tiger Asia fund is among the first of the 'Tiger baby' funds that Robertson began to nurture in 2000, after he had closed his own, massively successful hedge fund.

The Tiger Asia fund mainly invests in equities in China, Japan and Korea, and was established in 2001. Prior to this, Hwang was an equity analyst at Robertson's Tiger Management; he had also worked at Peregrine Securities and Hyundai Securities.

Raymond Park joined the fund in 2006 as managing director and head of trading. William Tomita joined last year to support Park's trading activities. Both men report to Hwang.

The three partners owe the SFC nearly $30 million, according to the regulator -- the equivalent notional profit made by Tiger Asia in alleged insider dealing and market manipulation activities.

The SFC says the infraction took place on the morning of January 6, when a placing agent in Hong Kong invited Tiger Asia to participate in a proposed placement of shares of China Construction Bank by Bank of America. The agent informed the hedge fund of the size and discount range of the deal -- even though everyone involved realised the confidential nature of such information.

Nonetheless, the SFC continues, Tiger Asia short-sold 93 million CCB shares that day, ahead of the public announcement of the placement. The SFC alleges the fund managers also manipulated CCB share prices downward. The sale was covered the next day by buying CCB shares at a discount to the prevailing market price, leading to a $29.9 million notional profit.

In addition to requesting that Tiger Asia's assets be frozen, it wants the firm and its three senior officers to be banned from trading in listed securities and derivatives in Hong Kong "in similar circumstances".

Until now, Hwang has been a star manager; in 2007, his fund returned 55%, and 40% annualised over its first seven years, according to a Fortune article.

Tiger Asia has no physical presence in Hong Kong.

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