Canadian life insurer Manulife has won a significant victory in its bid to hunt down alleged swindlers in a bitter Indonesian share dispute. A court has quashed a ruling that kept the lid on mystery people behind Hong Kong and Western Samoan shelf companies believed to be at the heart of the alleged fraud. Manulife hopes to unearth information from these individuals that could lead to further lawsuits and even criminal charges of conspiracy to defraud. The insurer claims it was the victim of a complex swindle that centred on a bogus share purchase in Indonesia. Manulife was accused of fraud and its executives thrown into jail. A 40 per cent stake in Manulife Indonesia came up for sale in June 2000 after the insurer's joint-venture partner, Dharmala Sakti Sejahtera (DSS), was declared bankrupt. Manulife bought the 1,800 shares for US$20 million at an auction in October that year. However, a British Virgin Islands company, Roman Gold Assets, laid claim to the shares. It presented documents to show the 40 per cent stake had already been sold by DSS boss Suyanto Gondokusumo. Manulife was accused of falsely obtaining the shares and faced criminal charges in Indonesia. A high-profile dispute over the allegations - with the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Canadian embassy stepping in - prompted the authorities to clear the insurer of any wrongdoing. The insurer maintains that bogus share documents were used to back up Roman Gold's claim to the shares and that Mr Gondokusumo is ultimately behind the alleged sham transaction. The entire saga was essentially an extortion bid, according to Manulife lawyers. Although the company has filed a HK$400 million damages lawsuit in Hong Kong, it is still unclear who the key people were behind the companies involved. A Hong Kong company - Harvest Hero International - was given power of attorney by DSS to sell the shares on to a Western Samoan company, Highmead, which then sold the shares to Roman Gold. Manulife asserts that Harvest Hero and Highmead were dormant when the powers of attorney to sell the shares were allegedly granted, and they were back-dated to make it appear the companies were active at the time. Attempts to force Harvest Hero to hand over details of the individuals behind the 'sham' chain of transfers failed at the Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal, however, overturned this yesterday. 'Indeed, if the plaintiff's allegations prove correct, the more time that it takes the plaintiff to seek redress, the more likely it is that any party at fault will be able to take steps to cover its deeds,' Mr Justice Anthony Rogers and Mrs Justice Doreen Le Pichon said in a judgment. They stressed: 'There may be others involved and the plaintiff is entitled to know if there are such persons and who they are.'