SINGAPORE: After seeing his lover's sick daughter die due to lack of money for hospital bills, a man decided to embezzle money from the restaurant he worked at when the other daughter fell ill from the same condition.
Maja Iskandaria Mohamed Juffri, 35, took a total of S$21,223 from the Monti at 1-Pavilion restaurant in Collyer Quay between Mar 28 and Apr 19 this year.
This amount, the court heard, was remitted to his lover in the Philippines, where her daughter was suffering from kidney failure.
The former assistant manager at the Italian restaurant was sentenced to nine months' jail on Monday (Oct 21) for one count of criminal breach of trust as a servant.
In his role, Maja collected the upscale restaurant's daily cash proceeds, and was tasked with keeping the money in the restaurant's safe before depositing it into a bank account the next day.
He began taking money from the safe this year, and initially returned the amounts at the end of the month when he received his salary.
"However, the amounts that he took from the restaurant's safe kept increasing, and eventually he was unable to return the monies that he had misappropriated," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Sheldon Lim.
In total, he took money from the restaurant on 20 occasions, in amounts ranging from S$23.50 to S$5,469.50, court documents showed.
Employees at the restaurant's finance department noticed in April that the daily sales proceeds had not been deposited for some time, and the Monti's general manager confronted Maja, who admitted to his acts.
He claimed that he had remitted all the money to his then-girlfriend in the Philippines. To date, he has returned about S$760 of the S$21,223 he took.
HE HAS SIMILAR PREVIOUS CONVICTIONS: PROSECUTOR
The prosecution had pushed for nine months' jail, saying Maja had previous convictions from 2013 and 2014 for criminal breach of trust and other offences.
The current offence was carried out in "quite a premeditated manner", said the prosecutor.
"He was using the restaurant as his personal bank account, and in fact had a system to avoid detection where he could repay the money at the end of the month, and this system worked until he lost control of his finances."
Maja, who was unrepresented, told the court that he realised his mistake, but said "my intention was to save a life".
"The person I sent money to was my son's mother. We are not married," he explained. "She had a previous marriage (and) two daughters. Her first daughter passed away in 2016 of a similar case as her younger sister.
"At that time, I couldn't save her, because when we went to the hospital, they demanded a certain payment at 3am in the morning, which I couldn't, and the next following morning, she passed away," said Maja, who was emotional as he spoke.
"In 2019 this year, a similar case happened to her younger sister, which is kidney failure, and I didn't want it to happen - even though we are separated, she is still the mother of my son," he said.
"I support her financially. I knew if I couldn't help her ... she could go into depression and my son would be affected too."
I REALISE THAT I'VE MADE A LOT OF PEOPLE SUFFER: ACCUSED
He said this was why he committed the offence "without thinking twice".
"But now, when I'm being bailed out, that's when I realise that (in) trying to save one life, I've made a lot of people suffer," he said.
This includes his sick mother and his five-year-old son, who is studying in the Philippines.
"A lot of other people suffered because of my stupidity."
He pleaded with the judge to be lenient, and said his former employer from a different company has supported him, acting as his bailor, and is willing to rehire him after his jail term.
"He told me I'm already 35 and it's time for me to move forward with my life. He told me that once I'm out from prison, he will take me in again as my employer to support me," said Maja.
"I really hope you will be lenient in your sentencing, your honour."
The prosecutor said there was no real way to ascertain the veracity of his plea, as Maja did not provide the police with any documents showing he had remitted the misappropriated money to the Philippines.
However, Maja said he had told the police that he could not show them the receipts at the time, but if he applied to the bank for them now, he could.
District Judge Carol Ling said she was willing to take his word for it, but "of course that doesn't condone what you have done".
"The ends do not justify the means of how you have gone about doing it," she said. "I think prosecution's sentence of nine months is more than fair."
The judge added: "Let me also add, you do have people who believe in you, there is a lot more that is ahead, so Mr Maja, don't look back and don't give yourself a reason to come back to court again."
For criminal breach of trust by a servant, Maja could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined.