SINGAPORE: An accountant with access to his company's cheque books and bank accounts embezzled almost S$4 million from the firm over about four years, remitting most of the money back home to the Philippines.
Ariel Biasong Salamanes, a 42-year-old Filipino, pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Sep 24) to 15 charges, including criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts. Another 267 charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.
The court heard that Salamanes was employed between 2012 and 2017 by QlikTech Singapore, a subsidiary of Swedish firm QlikTech International AB.
As part of his job for the sales and marketing arm of the big data analytics company, Salamanes handled book-keeping, balance sheets, as well as accounts payable and receivable.
He had access to the company's cheque books for the two bank accounts QlikTech owns in Singapore, and was authorised to sign singly on company cheques for payments of up to S$10,000.
He signed off on 451 company cheques between April 2013 and June 2017 to get the cash, covering up his crimes by instructing others to make false entries into the company's electronic accounting system.
He then made "a startling 835 remittances across 241 days", removing S$3.57 million of the money he embezzled from Singapore, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Cheng Yuxi.
HE REMITTED S$3.57 MILLION OVERSEAS
Most of the money was remitted to his home country, with some of it to the United Arab Emirates where he had some credit card debts, the court heard.
The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) received information on Jun 13, 2017 that Salamanes might have misappropriated funds from QlikTech by depositing company cheques into his personal bank account.
At the same time, QlikTech began its own internal checks and later filed a police report.
Salamanes' OCBC account, which contained about S$22,000, was seized, along with items such as remittance slips and cash withdrawal slips.
He has not made any restitution to QlikTech to date, said the prosecutor, but the company managed to claim about S$3.9 million from its insurer as part of its fraud insurance.
ACCUSED EXPLOITED LOOPHOLE IN SYSTEM: PROSECUTOR
The prosecution on Tuesday urged the court to sentence Salamanes to at least 11 years' jail, saying that sentences for large amounts of misappropriation should be severe.
"The accused has misappropriated a staggering amount of nearly S$4 million in total," said the prosecutor, adding that he was given a high degree of trust with access to the company's cheque books and exploited a loophole in the system.
Because he could sign singly on company cheques for up to S$10,000, he was able to issue numerous cheques over four years.
"Almost all the money misappropriated was for the accused's own use or for his immediate family and boyfriend," said the prosecutor.
Of the S$3.57 million remitted, S$1.69 million was for his own use, while another S$1.48 million was for his family and boyfriend.
About S$408,000 was kept in Singapore for his own use, said the prosecutor.
CLIENT WENT THROUGH TRAUMATIC BREAK-UP, USED MONEY FOR CHARITY: DEFENCE
Defence lawyer Christine Sekhon urged the court to sentence her client to no more than nine years' jail, saying that he had gone through a traumatic break-up with a long-term partner, with whom he had planned to settle down in Australia.
With the money he embezzled, he bought condominium units in the Philippines, invested in a multi-level marketing scheme that turned out to be a fraud, made stock investments and paid off his credit card bills in the United Arab Emirates.
The lawyer argued that her client had given some of the money away, paying for medication for the children of a long-time friend, financing at least 20 scholars through university and buying slippers for barefoot children in rural places in the Philippines.
Salamanes, who became a certified public accountant in 1997 and was called to the bar in his home country in 2008, developed depression towards the end of 2014, said the lawyer.
He felt "his altruistic actions" helped him, as he felt accepted and that the recipients of his help looked up to him.
She pointed out her client's "generosity and compassion, particularly towards charitable causes", and said he "has since come to recognise his own wrongdoing".
Salamanes had said he was "not a bad person", and that he "committed these acts to satisfy my craving to be accepted by others".
He is set to return to court to be sentenced on Wednesday.