SINGAPORE: A 69-year-old woman has claimed trial to 169 charges of cheating an elderly man of at least S$130,000 by telling him the money was “needed for Lee Kuan Yew”.
Tan Hwee Ngo allegedly asked her friend, 74-year-old Tan Soy Kiang, to withdraw all the money he had in his CPF Savings account - about S$53,000.
She is also accused of inducing Mr Tan, a petrol station pump attendant, into paying her a part of his salary every month. The alleged offences took place between June 1999 and December 2013.
The payments were purportedly facilitated by Mr Tan's good friend of many years, Madam Boo Sok Hiang, who was also giving Tan money regularly for what she thought was an investment. Mdm Boo introduced the scheme to Mr Tan when he expressed interest in it.
Tan was arrested after Mr Tan's niece found out what happened and confronted her.
On the first day of the trial on Wednesday (Jan 9), the accused sat in the dock listening to proceedings through a Teochew interpreter as the prosecution called its first witness - Senior Investigation Officer Manoj Kalwani.
Mr Manoj had taken two statements from 70-year-old Mdm Boo, who allegedly collected payments from Mr Tan and handed them to the accused.
Mdm Boo had been under investigation as well, but died in April 2016 of heart disease a few months after giving her second police statement, the court heard.
POLICE STATEMENTS READ IN COURT
In her statements to the police, Mdm Boo said she had known the accused for about 30 years. She had also been friends with Mr Tan for a long time, as they worked as sweepers in Toa Payoh and Serangoon.
On one occasion, Mr Tan had asked her to marry him, Mdm Boo said in her statement. She rejected him as they were old, but they continued to be good friends.
According to Mr Manoj, Mdm Boo said she herself had given Tan a sum of between S$10,000 and S$20,000 over 15 years.
She first did so in 2007 or 2008, after Tan told her that a man named Mr Yeo Hiap Seng had a scheme to help senior citizens.
Mdm Boo said she gave Tan S$390 in the hopes of getting S$500 in return under the scheme, but Tan later said Mr Yeo had scammed them. As many had fallen to the scam, “Lee Kuan Yew” had bought over the scheme, Tan allegedly told Mdm Boo.
Hoping to recover the original sum of money, Mdm Boo said she began paying Tan sums of money ranging from S$29 to a few hundred dollars each time.
"Ah Ngo said there is now a chance to recover back the money as everything is in Lee Kuan Yew's hands," Mdm Boo told Mr Manoj through a Teochew interpreter.
"Ah Ngo asked me to start making payment again. Whenever she called me and said Lee Kuan Yew needs money, I will make payment. If I don't pay, Lee Kuan Yew will send me an invoice,” she said in her statement.
Tan also allegedly used Goh Chok Tong's and Lee Hsien Loong's names when asking for money.
"I was living in despair," Mr Manoj said, quoting the late Mdm Boo's statement. "I did not get any money from Ah Ngo at all. I also did not dare to tell my daughter the salary I collected every month, I give everything to Ah Ngo."
ACCUSED WAS MASTERMIND, SAYS POLICE OFFICER
At the time of her first statement in 2015, Mdm Boo said she still believed that the scheme was genuine. She added that she continued giving money despite getting no returns as she hoped to eventually recover the cash with interest.
"I'm very good friends with Tan," Mdm Boo told Mr Manoj. "I wanted Ah Tan to benefit from the scheme. If I knew it was non-existent, I would not have. I also do not want police to ask Lee Kuan Yew about this."
Mdm Boo claimed she had told Tan once that she wanted to withdraw from the scheme. However, Tan purportedly told her that Lee Kuan Yew would give her a fine of S$5,000 if she withdrew, so she kept up her payments.
"I gathered that Tan was the mastermind in this whole case, whereas Mdm Boo was just acting as a middleman," Mr Manoj told the court. "(Tan) had cheated the victim by coming up with the scheme that he had to pay money to Lee Kuan Yew and he had paid her from his CPF savings and monthly salary for quite some time."
The investigation officer said his impression of the victim was that he was "very simple-minded" but hardworking.
"Whatever I told him, he would just acknowledge and never had any further questions. I had the impression that he was a very hardworking person, as he kept asking the interpreter what time would statement-taking finish as he needed to go back to work," Mr Manoj added.
Tan's lawyer TM Sinnadurai told the court he intends to challenge a statement given by his client, in which she said she used the money for gambling.
Instead, he claimed that Mdm Boo was a habitual gambler, and would often play mahjong with Tan.
He said Mr Tan's niece alleged in her police report that Mdm Boo was heard saying to Mr Tan: "You better pass me the money or you will die."
He put it to Mr Manoj that Mdm Boo was not telling the whole truth in her statement, but Mr Manoj disagreed.
The trial resumes on Thursday. The prosecution intends to call several witnesses, including Mr Tan, his niece and other police investigation officers.