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Friday, November 3, 2000

Bankruptcy fraud
suspect Sia to move
into luxury condo

By Debra Barayuga

Businessman Sukamto Sia, indicted on federal bankruptcy fraud charges, could be staying at a Waikiki Landmark luxury condominium as early as next week while awaiting trial.

But he won't be living alone.

U.S. District Judge Alan Ezra, who earlier placed Sia at a Makiki halfway house after deeming him a flight risk, yesterday said he will allow the move as long as Sia is electronically monitored and supervised by court-approved, court-trained personnel 24 hours a day.

Sia, under $1.5 million bail, is already under some supervision at Miller Hale and is escorted to his attorneys' offices during the day by a private investigator.

He is set to go to trial Dec. 5 on three counts of bankruptcy fraud and six counts of making false statements during bankruptcy proceedings and money laundering.

Defense attorneys sought the move, saying Sia has abided by the court's orders since his placement at Miller Hale and proven he is not a flight risk.

Fong Ngo Lam, a longtime friend, had offered Sia the use of her 28th-floor Waikiki Landmark luxury condominium for the duration of his trial.

Defense attorney William McCorriston said Sia is happy the judge granted his request, but needs to talk with him further to explain the court's ruling.

"We certainly will make every effort to get it together in the next few days, if not tomorrow," McCorriston said. "Hopefully he'll be in a better circumstance by next week.

"Mr. Sia adamantly maintains his innocence and knows the charges against him are unfounded. There has been widespread misrepresentation about his character, his business practice and his conduct."

Sia, who appeared overwhelmed by the court's consideration, hugged and shook hands with numerous friends and supporters after the hearing before returning to Miller Hale.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Omer Poirier, who opposed the motion because the government still maintains Sia is a flight risk because of the substantial amount of prison time he faces if convicted, said they were not happy with Sia's placement at the halfway house, which is not a totally secured facility.

Just because Sia hasn't tried to escape the halfway house doesn't mean he's no longer a flight risk, Poirier said. And the court's decision to house Sia elsewhere simply incurs a different set of problems from those present at Miller Hale.

Ezra acknowledged that he still feels Sia is a flight risk and sees no circumstances that have arisen to alter that position. But he was not about to allow Sia to move to the Waikiki Landmark and live by himself -- not with his international ties and apparent access to funds.

Sia filed for bankruptcy protection in November 1998, claiming more than $296 million in debts and $9.3 million in assets.

Ezra said he felt granting the request balanced the risk with Sia's right to access his attorneys and prepare for an adequate defense. "I still believe there's certain risks to be anywhere else except in the custody of the U.S. marshal."

McCorriston said despite the amount of work needed to prepare for trial, he and three other lawyers working the case are prepared to proceed Dec. 5. The government also wants to proceed as quickly as possibly, Poirier said.

Ezra said based on his experience with complex cases such as Sia's, he did not expect the case to be ready to go to trial next month, but in February or March instead.

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