WHEN the doors of Ch'ng Poh's cell crashed shut yesterday, locking away the Malaysian businessman for five years, the door was also closing on a long and curious chapter of Hong Kong corporate history. Ch'ng dictated his own ''epitaph'' to the press in 1986. ''If you believe in your own principles, you have to stand by them,'' he said. ''I think right will always prevail. I have to bear it and take the responsibility.'' The tale began when Ch'ng and his friend Ngai Shiu-kit, a legislative councillor, used their company, Join Hands, to buy 60 per cent of Intercontinental Housing Developments Holdings (now IHD Holdings) in August 1985 from then-owners Tan Khai-chong and Low Chang Hian, who was also at the time chief of Ka Wah Bank. Mr Ngai was to provide $45 million in cash and bank loans and Ch'ng was to come up with the rest in a bid worth $232.5 million. But Ch'ng never came up with his share. Instead, he conspired with Low, who is now in jail, to steal the money from IHD itself. The pair cooked up a scheme in which a series of cheques would be circulated - with Ch'ng signing and Low rubber-stamping them. In less than 15 minutes the money travelled in a neat circle. IHD was bought and apparently paid for - but the money had come from the firm's own accounts. The eventual unravelling of the scheme was a foregone conclusion. In late 1985, Ch'ng admitted that $127.6 million was missing. The company's share price plummeted but Ch'ng told shareholders he would get the cash back. He appeared to make every attempt to do so. On January 7, 1986, he sued Ka Wah Bank, former IHD chairman Quek Teck Huat and other IHD officers for the sum. On March 4, 1986, he filed a writ against Ka Wah Bank and six of its directors, including Low. On March 19, an IHD subsidiary sued a group of former IHD directors. Ch'ng said the former directors had sold five floors of a building in 1984 for $100 million less than the property was worth. On June 9, Ka Wah starting to strike back, claiming IHD had not settled a $122 million overdraft and the interest. Then in July 1986 the truth slowly started to emerge as former directors claimed that a circular money scheme was used and they sued Ch'ng, Low and other directors, and the Ka Wah Bank. At the time Ch'ng denied the charges. ''When I first bought into IHD I had big plans,'' he said. ''We know where the money has gone and we think we have a strong case against the people involved,'' he said. Ch'ng blamed the auditors for not picking up the facts. Over the next few years, Ch'ng was to sack several sets of auditors and another set, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, was to resign after refusing to accept IHD's version of a deal involving American Global Assurance Co. In September 1987, Ch'ng signed a deal for IHD which ''settled'' the suits with Ka Wah, and IHD agreed to pay Ka Wah $162 million. The years before and since were littered with cancelled deals, share suspensions and, of course, legal actions. The ticking of the $127.6 million bomb under Ch'ng could be heard loud and clear when he was arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on March 23, 1992. The ticking was louder still when he made his first appearance in court as late as June 29, 1992, charged at first with only making false statements in the 1985 IHD annual report. Ch'ng hung on to his chairmanship at IHD until February last year and even after resigning that post (to pass it on to his wife) he retained the chief executive's role. He still holds 28.42 per cent of the company and last night, as he was taken down to the cells on his way to a five-year term in prison, his company was worth $1.8 billion. His former partner in crime, Low, is bankrupt and serving a 51/2-year jail term for conspiracy and theft of $680.5 million from Ka Wah bank.