SINGAPORE: An unemployed woman was referred by her Member of Parliament for an interview, which led to her securing a job at a Woodlands Residents' Committee (RC). But she used her position to misappropriate residents' money and commit crime.
Sri Hawa Safiee, 41, was sentenced on Monday (Sep 28) to three months and six weeks' jail for pocketing S$590 entrusted to her in her position as an RC manager, and for using a photocopy of an identity card she found in the RC office to commit a mobile phone scam.
She pleaded guilty to one charge each of cheating and criminal breach of trust by a servant. A third charge of misappropriating another S$2,100 in her capacity as an RC manager was taken into consideration.
The court heard that Sri Hawa had met her MP to discuss her financial difficulties and jobless status in 2015.
The MP, who was not named in court documents, then referred Sri Hawa for an interview, and she was subsequently hired by the RC for Woodlands Zone 1.
As a manager at the RC, Sri Hawa's duties included handling daily operations, managing courses and activities, and handling the RC's financial accounts. She was also entrusted with cash and cheques paid by residents for courses or events organised by the RC.
In early August 2015, the RC's vice-chairman handed S$500 to Sri Hawa, which residents had paid for a table booking for the RC's annual National Day dinner.
Sri Hawa was instructed to deposit the sum into the RC's bank account and issue a cheque for the same amount to be made payable to the constituency.
She issued a cheque as instructed, but did not deposit the cash. Instead, she spent it on her own expenses.
She similarly spent S$90 that was handed to her in June 2016 to be deposited in the RC's bank account. The amount had been paid by residents for a mooncake-making course.
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Sometime before July 2015, Sri Hawa came across a photocopy of a woman's identity card in the RC office. It belonged to a cleaner who worked under Sri Hawa at the office.
Sri Hawa used the woman's particulars to apply for a mobile phone plan, using a computer at the RC. She signed up for a package and received a phone worth S$998, which she used for a few months before selling it for S$300.
The account, in the victim's name, accrued debts of S$1,335.45, and Singtel recruited a third-party firm to chase the victim for the money.
The victim later told her son what had happened, and he helped her lodge a police report.
Internal investigations by the RC later uncovered Sri Hawa's scam and the police were called in.
Sri Hawa's supervisor also discovered the discrepancies in the bank account and an internal audit was launched. He lodged a police report, and Sri Hawa was fired.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Ronald Ang asked for a sentence of four months and four weeks' jail, saying that the money in the criminal breach of trust offence involved People's Association funds.
Sri Hawa's defence lawyer, appointed under the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, asked instead for not more than eight weeks' jail.
He said this was not a situation where Sri Hawa had repeatedly and serially taken money. The amount in the proceeded charge was "relatively low", at S$590, he said.
Sri Hawa had also cooperated "right from the outset" with the police and with the RC, he said.
More than four years have passed and she "continues to stay on the straight path", supporting her family and children, said the lawyer.
The judge said he had to consider that Sri Hawa did not make restitution, and agreed with the prosecution that a deterrent message had to be sent.
For criminal breach of trust by a servant, she could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined. For cheating, she could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
The judge allowed her to defer sentence to Oct 12.