SINGAPORE: Over three months, an accounts manager with access to the bank accounts of two companies misappropriated S$1.3 million that she transferred to a man known only as "Benjamin", whom she had fallen in love with.
She did so after the man promised to send her a parcel containing gifts, jewellery and 370,000 euros (S$593,000). She thought she would be able to use the money to repay the companies.
Liew Bee Yee, 43, was jailed for six years on Wednesday (Mar 10) for one count of criminal breach of trust as a servant.
Her lawyer called it "a love gone wrong", with Liew expecting Benjamin to resolve the matter "like a knight in shining armour". She had booked transport and accommodation expecting him to arrive in Singapore.
The court heard that Liew came to work in Singapore after graduating with a diploma in business administration in Kuala Lumpur. She worked for electronics component company McCoy for 10 years from 2009 and was promoted in 2015 to accounts manager.
In her role, she was entrusted with control over the money in the bank accounts of McCoy and its related company iConnexion. She also handled McCoy's line of credit with Western Union Business Solutions.
In August 2019, Liew made friends online with a man named "Benjamin". They began chatting on WhatsApp, and Benjamin asked Liew to be his girlfriend. However, Liew rejected him, saying she had a boyfriend.
Despite this, they continued talking, with Benjamin saying he was a pilot who had flown to Paris and promising to send Liew a parcel with gifts and money.
He texted Liew on Aug 23, 2019, saying she would receive a parcel from Paris with cash inside and asking for her residential address. She declined at first, but gave her company's address out of curiosity.
A few days later, a person calling himself Kian contacted Liew on WhatsApp, claiming to be from "Open Wings Global Express Service". He asked Liew to make payment as the parcel from Benjamin was overweight.
She transferred S$3,600 from her own savings to a dedicated account provided by Kian. After this, she asked Benjamin what he had sent her. He told her it was a parcel containing 370,000 euros, and she "felt happy and became greedy", according to court documents.
Benjamin later claimed there were other branded items and jewellery in the parcel. Over the next few weeks, Kian continued to ask Liew for more payments for things like taxes and "security".
When she ran out of money in her own accounts, Liew began transferring cash from McCoy and iConnexion to fulfil this purpose. The amounts ranged from S$12,800 to S$80,000.
Over three months, Liew misappropriated S$1.3 million in total from the two companies.
The director of iConnexion received a call from Western Union in late September 2019, asking for repayments for credit drawn by the company. He said the company had not borrowed any money and asked Liew to check on it.
She claimed it was a misunderstanding that would be settled, as she believed that she could repay the money once she received the parcel.
However, the director received another call when he returned to Singapore in October 2019 and confronted Liew, who admitted to misappropriating the money.
The police seized a total of S$32,446 from 11 bank accounts Kian had provided, and Liew made partial restitution of S$170,000.
The balance of S$1.1 million was not recovered, and Western Union has commenced legal action against McCoy and iConnexion.
The parcel that was promised to Liew never arrived.
CULPABILITY NOT REDUCED BECAUSE SHE WAS DECEIVED: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Emily Koh asked for seven years' jail for Liew, citing the significant abuse of trust in how she misappropriated the money on 33 occasions over three months.
She took deliberate steps to conceal her tracks and did not come clean when first confronted, said Ms Koh, adding that Liew was the only accounts manager of both companies.
"The fact that the accused was deceived by scammers doesn't reduce her culpability," she said. "Ultimately, she was motivated by greed and not by need, in the hope of getting a reward."
Lawyers Genith Lim and Simon Tan asked for five years' jail instead, pointing to Liew's clean record, genuine remorse and restitution that was all she could afford.
They said she did not enjoy any personal benefit and had a genuine belief that she could return the money once she received the parcel.
They added that Liew was a "simple, naive and unsophisticated lady" who fell prey to a scam because of her trusting nature.
Mr Tan said Liew is unmarried and was living alone in Singapore, trying to eke out a living while her family was in Malaysia.
"When she was first approached by Benjamin and fell in love with him, she was blind-sided by him," he said, adding that Liew thought he "would come, like a knight in shining armour".
"Your honour, this is a love gone wrong. I urge you to consider - she never intended to cause the company any harm," he said.
She could have been jailed up to 15 years and fined.