SINGAPORE: Ms Pamela Lim suspected something was wrong when she found out that her uncle had been borrowing money from her relatives despite working two “back-breaking” jobs.
She later discovered that her uncle, 74-year-old Tan Soy Kiang, had allegedly been giving two women part of his monthly salary for more than 10 years.
One of the women, 69-year-old dishwasher Tan Hwee Ngo, is on trial for 169 counts of cheating Mr Tan of at least S$130,000 in Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings and salary.
The accused allegedly told Mr Tan, a petrol station pump attendant, that the money was for “Lee Kuan Yew”. The alleged cheating offences took place between June 1999 and December 2013.
On the third day of the trial on Friday (Jan 11), Ms Lim described how she found out about what happened, after talking to her uncle’s employers and eventually confronting the two women at a fast food outlet.
Taking the stand as the prosecution’s witness, the real estate agent said her uncle has been staying with her since 2013.
"He doesn't drink, smoke or gamble," said Ms Lim. "His ritual is - he just goes to work and comes home."
"Suddenly, he started trying to borrow money from me," she added. "Which was peculiar because for a single guy who's not married, doesn't drink and doesn't smoke, working two jobs - where did all the money go? His food and utility bills are paid for."
The only time she saw him getting angry, Ms Lim said, was when she did not believe his claims of what happened to the money.
Mr Tan had said that he needed to pay his long-time friend, Madam Boo Sok Hiang, as he owed the government and Lee Kuan Yew money.
"He told me if he doesn't return the money, 'Lao Lee' (old Lee) will demand double with interest,” said Ms Lim, referring to Lee Kuan Yew.
“He also said we cannot talk too loud in the house because there are cameras around, and there was one time a big car came with bodyguards," she added. "It didn't make any sense."
NIECE CHECKED WITH UNCLE'S PETROL STATION BOSSES
Worried that her uncle owed loansharks money, Ms Lim decided to speak with a manager at a Toa Payoh petrol station where he worked.
According to Ms Lim, the manager said she had once placed a call for Mr Tan on speaker phone and heard someone saying: "If you don't give me the money, I will kill you, you will die."
Ms Lim said she also spoke to her uncle's supervisor, who told her that her uncle would hand his salary to Mdm Boo.
A cleaner at the petrol station repeated the same thing to her - saying that every time Mr Tan received his salary, a woman would shout at him to hand the money over. The supervisor tried telling Mr Tan not to do so, but he persisted, Ms Lim recounted.
On Feb 3, 2014, Ms Lim lodged a police report as she was worried that someone was after her uncle's life. The next day, the petrol station manager told Ms Lim that she was about to give her uncle his salary, the court heard.
Ms Lim rushed down to the petrol station and followed her uncle to a void deck nearby. There, she saw Mdm Boo for the first time. She confronted her and took a video of the incident.
"She admitted that she's been taking money from my uncle every month, and from our encounter, that's when I also asked her to ask Madam Tan to come out and meet us," said Ms Lim.
She added that her uncle would pay Mdm Boo, who would pay the accused, who would pay "the government".
Asked by Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min if she had checked how the accused was to give money to the government, Ms Lim said: "No I didn't find out. I didn't check because I knew it's not true. Because it's not logical."
INVESTIGATION CULMINATED IN CONFRONTATION
Videos of various confrontations were played in court on Friday.
After meeting Mdm Boo, Ms Lim arranged to meet the accused the next day. She and her husband went to a Mos Burger outlet at Toa Payoh HDB Hub to meet Tan, Mdm Boo and her uncle, the court heard.
Tan claimed that she took a much smaller sum of money and that it was for a "failed business venture".
After the confrontation, Ms Lim said she made both women sign a statement admitting that they had borrowed money from her uncle and agreeing to pay it back in instalments of S$500 per month.
She told the court that uncle was "so scared of them he had to work two jobs to find money to pass to the two women".
He started out as a cleaner sweeping the streets "from break of dawn until late morning", she said.
"Residents know him, they pass him five, 10 dollars every time they see him, and give him a packet of rice," said Ms Lim. "After that, he will have a shower and go to the petrol station. I needed him to know that he doesn't owe anyone money so he doesn't struggle ... with his back-breaking jobs."
Mdm Boo died of heart disease in April 2016, a few months after giving a second statement to the police. She was around 70 years old when the alleged crime was discovered.
If found guilty of cheating, Tan can be sentenced to a maximum of three years' jail per charge and fined.