SINGAPORE: A former chairman of a mosque management board was sentenced to jail for two years and three months on Wednesday (Apr 24) for siphoning more than S$370,000 from donations over seven years.
Ab Mutalif Hashim, 58, had pleaded guilty to six criminal breach of trust charges with another eight taken into consideration.
He had taken the cash from donations at Masjid Darussalam in Commonwealth Avenue West between 2006 and 2013, but was nabbed after a marked increase in mosque donations was noted after he stepped down.
His defence lawyer Satwant Singh had argued that his client was a "hero" who had used most of the money to help the needy and had started a "24-hour mosque" service which needed money to run.
"Yes, he had taken the money from the mosque, but he expended these monies on them," said Mr Singh, referring to those in need. "We all know if you ask for monies you have to fill out many forms and basically there is red tape."
He had asked for no more than a year's jail, a third of what the prosecution was pushing for.
District Judge Ong Chin Ru said Ab Mutalif was implicitly trusted by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), fellow board members and congregants.
"As pointed out by the prosecution, it was in no small part due to the high degree of trust the volunteers and caretakers had for him that he was able to circumvent the financial regulations and secretly take monies from the donation chests and containers which had been placed in his office for safe keeping," she said.
HOW WAS THE MONEY USED?
The judge added that the use of the money was perhaps the most controversial aspect of the case, which she had adjourned for a week in order to arrive at a decision.
About S$71,000 of the sum he had taken was deposited over a period of time into Ab Mutalif's own bank account, and he used some of it on his own expenses including credit card bills, family allowances, travelling and medical expenses.
Another S$72,000 was deposited into the bank account of registered charity Just Parenting Association. Ab Mutalif drew a monthly salary at the charity as its executive director.
He had also used more than S$18,000 of the money to pay for expenses of another charity which he was president of - the Association for Devoted and Active Family Men.
His defence lawyer had argued that he disbursed between S$67,600 and S$84,000 to those who sought help at the mosque.
The judge said it remained unclear what had become of the balance of the misappropriated funds, as there seems to be no record available to satisfactorily account for them.
However, she said "what was clear was that this was neither a case where all or most of the monies misappropriated have been given to the needy, nor a case where there was no personal gain on the part of Ab Mutalif".
She said any crime involving charity funds would lead to public disquiet and probably shake the public's trust in the charity sector as a whole, and that the ultimate victims were the numerous congregations that gave generously to the mosque, expecting that the money would be managed responsibly and transparently.
Dismissing the defence's argument that Ab Mutalif's S$130,000 donation for the mosque's toilet renovation and S$60,000 for a project should be considered restitution, the judge said they cannot rightfully be regarded as restitution and can only be considered previous contributions to the mosque.
Supporters and loved ones of Ab Mutalif were in tears after the hearing, declining to speak to reporters.