SINGAPORE: An unemployed man who was part of a five-person syndicate that defrauded statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) of almost S$40 million was sentenced to five years and eight months in jail on Tuesday (Nov 27).
Lee Chi Wai - the first person to be sentenced for the scam - was part of a criminal syndicate that had conspired to obtain training subsidies from SSG using forged documents.
The court found that Lee, 32, had helped hide criminal proceeds of S$6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold in his home, laundering some of the cash.
The cases against the other four members of the syndicate - comprising his mother, sister, brother-in-law and brother-in-law's friend - are pending.
S$40 MILLION IN SIX MONTHS
The syndicate used a network of nine Singapore-registered entities - three training providers and six applicant entities or firms that were supposedly sending employees for courses - to submit 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and corresponding claims to SSG between May and October last year.
The applications claimed that training courses were provided to about 25,000 employees of the six applicant firms.
As a result, SSG disbursed S$39.9 million to the six firms and three training providers.
The scam was discovered after SSG detected anomalies in claims for training grants at the end of October 2017 and immediately suspended all payments of grants to the nine business entities and reported the case to the police.
It has since tightened its processes, including implementing fraud analytics and conducting a comprehensive review of the system.
LEE'S INVOLVEMENT IN THE SCAM
In May last year, Lee noticed that his sister and co-accused, 40-year-old Lee Lai Leng, had suddenly become wealthy, when her financial situation had been "not good" before.
In July last year, she asked to transfer S$49,950 to Lee because her account "cannot have money". Lee in turn cautioned his sister to make the transfer "bit by bit" so as not to leave an audit trail, court documents said.
Lee's sister also passed him S$930,000 in cash in September 2017 before leaving for a holiday with her husband, co-accused Ng Cheng Kwee, 42.
Lee took the bag of cash home and placed it in a drawer. In total, he hid S$6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold of the sum defrauded from SSG in a safe in his home.
Just a few hours before the Commercial Affairs Department arrested him, Lee brought the criminal proceeds in the safe to a friend's home to evade detection, the prosecution said.
He also used part of a S$79,950 sum of the criminal proceeds deposited into his bank account to buy a car.
Lee pleaded guilty earlier this month to three charges in relation to the criminal proceeds.
Lee's sister has been charged with forging a CPF Board document to cheat SSG into disbursing course fee subsidies, and with abetting her brother to conceal criminal proceeds.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Ivan Chua Boon Chwee, Tan Hsiao Tien and Cheng Yuxi had asked for a sentence of at least 75 months' jail for Lee, saying that money-laundering offences are grave offences that facilitate serious crimes.
These crimes are easily committed, they said, by simply having offenders agree to receive funds in their back accounts only to transfer them elsewhere later.
The prosecutors added that public funds were laundered, saying that the harm "goes beyond monetary loss and extends to societal harm and potential harm to public confidence in the effective administration of public funds".
LEE HAS MADE RESTITUTION OF S$30,000: DEFENCE
Lee's defence lawyer Gino Hardial Singh asked for a sentence not exceeding 46 months' jail, telling the court that his client had made restitution of S$30,000 to SSG.
He said that Lee was genuinely remorseful for his actions, which were "carried out in a moment of folly and out of blind trust in his sister".
Mr Singh added that Lee, who is married with a young daughter, had cooperated fully with the authorities and pleaded guilty early.
Lee was the main breadwinner of his family, working as a trainer at Manulife Singapore until he resigned in December last year, Mr Singh added.
District Judge Luke Tan in passing his sentence said that it is "quite undeniable that there's a huge sum involved", noting that he has accepted Lee's cooperation with the police and plea of guilt.