SINGAPORE: An accountant who embezzled a total of S$41 million over a decade was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months' jail on Tuesday (Jul 16).
Malaysia-born Ewe Pang Kooi, 65, was "driven by an insatiable appetite for gambling", said Justice Chan Seng Onn. To date, about S$24 million has not been recovered.
"It is fair to say that one man's gambling habit came at a great price for many," said the judge in delivering his sentence.
He gave Ewe "some allowance" for indirect partial restitution in the form of more than S$17 million that Ewe had deposited back to the various entities.
Ewe had been found guilty of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent after a trial.
He had misappropriated the "massive" funds between February 2002 and July 2012 while holding three roles - as a liquidator of companies, as a receiver for the assets of a person and as an agent to operate a company's bank account.
The Singapore permanent resident was a certified public accountant and an approved liquidator. He was the managing partner of accounting firm Ewe, Loke & Partners and director of E&M Management Consultants, a company that provided tax and financial consulting and corporate restructuring services.
HE GAMBLED MUCH OF THE FUNDS
Instead of dealing with the funds as he had been entrusted to do, Ewe used the money for himself. His crimes affected 21 companies where he acted as liquidator, including six subsidiaries of Hewlett-Packard.
As a liquidator of firms in receivership, which are going bankrupt or unable to meet financial obligations, Ewe was authorised to have control over bank accounts and assets. This was so he could make payments to creditors and recover the assets of the companies in liquidation.
He had "near complete control" over the assets of the companies on a day-to-day basis, and was accountable to shareholders and creditors only at the end of the liquidation process.
To prevent detection of his crimes, Ewe moved funds between entities to cover up his misappropriation, but his scheme was uncovered when Hewlett Packard companies chased him about assets from liquidation and he had to admit to his offences.
He was a "pathological gambler", who treated his clients' money as his "personal cash bank", according to psychiatrists who assessed him.
He bet large amounts of up to S$150,000 on games at casinos for a "kick" and used his clients' funds to chase his losses.
Although he claimed he did not benefit financially from the crimes nor amass riches, he obtained benefits from Resorts World Casino such as a "permanent" hotel room in Sentosa and "sufficient points to sustain a comfortable life", said Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo and Hon Yi.
JUDGE PLOTS GRAPH ON PROJECTOR
Justice Chan Seng Onn explained how he derived the sentence by showing a series of graphs, plotting out a graph in blue ink on a projector in the court, showing the sentences for previous similar cases and disregarding the outliers.
"Having considered the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case, I note the need for the court to come down harshly on the accused so as to deter like-minded offenders who, by virtue of their elevated position of trust, are given access to large sums of money which may be misappropriated for their personal gain," said the judge.
"Nonetheless, I also note that the accused had cooperated fully during the investigations and had not disputed the facts in court, thereby saving the investigative authorities and the court a significant amount of time and resources."
The prosecution had asked for 30 years' jail, while the defence asked for between 12 and 18 years.
The defence said the diabetic Ewe had ripped his toenail a day before and asked for him to be out on bail pending appeal.
However, the judge rejected the request, saying that the prisons are equipped to deal with such inmates and that there were others with worse conditions.
"With remission, the accused may have the chance of being released before his passing," said the judge.
"It is hoped that he will use this lifeline wisely, and use whatever time he has remaining – whether in prison or otherwise – to strive to make amends and reflect on the extreme gravity of his wrongdoing and the serious monetary harm he has caused to all the clients who had fully entrusted him with their monies."
For criminal breach of trust as an agent, Ewe could have been jailed for life and fined.