SINGAPORE: A woman who ran a ponzi scheme for five years, cheating 53 people out of more than S$35 million in total, was sentenced to jail for 14 years on Friday (May 17).
Leong Lai Yee, 55, pleaded guilty to 51 charges, with another 806 charges taken into consideration for sentencing.
The court heard that the former real estate agent deceived the victims - many of whom were her friends - into investing with her.
The investments were supposedly for the purchase of distressed properties or properties whose owners are in default on the mortgage, which she claimed she would sell for profit.
Another lie she told the investors was that she would use the funds for a scheme to fund start-ups that would purportedly reap lucrative monthly returns.
In this way, she took sums ranging from S$150,000 and S$800,000 from the victims between 2010 and 2015.
She did not carry out any of the investments she had promised, but instead took money from other victims to give to previous victims as "returns".
The undischarged bankrupt also used the money for her own expenses such as mortgage loan repayments, car loan repayments, bills and family expenses.
Her scheme was exposed when she began delaying payments in late 2014. She told the victims that she would refund all outstanding payments by mid-May 2015, but she could not repay them.
She fled the country on May 15, 2015, and went to Thailand. That same month, 107 people made police reports against Leong, and the Commercial Affairs Department launched an investigation.
Leong surrendered herself at the Singapore embassy in Bangkok more than two years later in November 2017.
She has not made any restitution, the prosecution said, urging the court to jail her for at least 14 to 15 years.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Kenneth Chin and Foong Leong Parn noted that the amount cheated is "unprecedented", with no similar cases coming close to the total amount Leong cheated from her victims.
Her defence lawyer Tito Isaac asked instead for a sentence of eight to nine years' jail, saying his client was immensely remorseful and "is committed to starting afresh".
For each cheating charge, Leong could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.