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Agritrade's former CFO deceives international banks, gets 20 years’ jail in multimillion-dollar cheating case

  • Lulu Lim Beng Kim, the former chief financial officer of commodity firm Agritrade International, was sentenced to 20 years' jail
  • She had pleaded guilty to 12 charges, including cheating and falsification of accounts
  • Lim had duped 16 banks and financial institutions in Singapore and abroad into granting at least S$776 million in credit facilities to Agritrade 

SINGAPORE: A former chief financial officer (CFO) of commodity firm Agritrade International was given a 20-year jail sentence on Tuesday (Jan 17) for her role in a multi-million-dollar cheating case that involved 16 banks and financial institutions worldwide.

Lulu Lim Beng Kim pleaded guilty last month to 12 charges, including cheating and falsification of accounts.

Twenty-four similar charges were taken into consideration for the 63-year-old Singaporean’s sentencing, which was backdated to Sep 17, 2021 - the day she was placed in custody.

Lim, who appeared in court via a video link, did not react when the sentence was read.

The prosecution, comprising Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo, Tan Zhi Hao, Yee Jia Rong and Andrew Chia, previously described Lim’s case as “one of the largest and most complex fraudulent trade-financing schemes ever to be prosecuted before the courts”.

They said that on Lim’s express instructions or authorisation, Agritrade International had submitted three sets of falsified financial statements and other documents to 16 victim banks and financial institutions over a period of three years.

As a result, the company defrauded the banks and financial institutions into granting a net of at least US$586.5 million (S$776.3 million) under various credit facilities to Agritrade.

Court documents showed that some of the banks defrauded included those with branches in Singapore such as German bank Commerzbank AG and Dutch bank ING. Other foreign banks included China's Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and the State Bank of India.

Incorporated in 1979, Agritrade is a global trading house based in Singapore and its business involves the trading and refining of commodities such as coal, palm oil and various chemicals. It also provides logistical support for regional land reclamation and construction projects.

In January 2020, Agritrade came under financial strain due to the collapse in oil and coal prices.


The Singapore Police Force said in a press release on Tuesday that investigations from 2016 to 2018 showed that Lim contacted or tried to contact a director of an auditing and accounting firm to prepare draft consolidated financial statements for Agritrade and its subsidiaries.

From January 2017 to November 2019, she then either instructed or permitted her subordinates to forward documents that she had disseminated to them, including falsified financial statements, to banks and finance companies.

Through this operation, Lim deceived 16 financial institutions into believing that the consolidated financial statements for Agritrade and its subsidiary companies for the financial years between 2016 and 2018 were audited, when they were not, the police said.

As a result, these 16 financial institutions granted at least US$586.5 million in credit facilities to Agritrade between January 2017 and November 2019.

The police said that Agritrade defaulted on these loans and the total loss that the financial institutions suffered amounted to around US$469.1 million.

The Commercial Affairs Department of the police force began investigations into Lim and others for trade financing fraud in January 2020.

Lim left Singapore shortly after the start of the investigations and an Interpol Red Notice was issued against her.

The police said that they made extensive efforts to locate her with the help of several foreign counterparts and she was later located and arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

She arrived in Singapore in September 2021 via a flight arranged by the UAE authorities and was placed under arrest.


In delivering his sentence on Tuesday, District Judge Kow Keng Siong told Lim that she was a flight risk and he thus could not accede to a request made by a person named Hubert Lim for her to spend four weeks with her mother. It was not made clear what is the man's relation to Lim. 

The judge acknowledged a mitigation plea by Lim’s defence lawyer, Mr Noor Marican of Marican & Associates, that set out two reasons why she had committed the offences.

The first was that Agritrade’s founder Ng Say Pek, a long-time superior who had significant control and influence over Lim, had pressured her to commit the offences.

The second was that Lim believed that Ng would be able to repay the financial institutions. She had also committed the offences to keep Agritrade afloat and its workers in employment.

District Judge Kow said that although these factors are relevant to ensure proportionality and parity in sentencing, he said the prosecution had rightly pointed out that Lim had 30 years of working experience and was one of the top executives in a global trading house.

She would have known from the outset that what she was instructed to do was illegal.

“She could have refused to comply with Ng’s instructions and, if needed, leave (Agritrade),” District Judge Kow said.

Instead, Lim chose to assist Ng in perpetuating the cheating scam and gave the necessary instructions to several of her subordinates to spin “the web of deceit” to defraud numerous financial institutions for a lengthy period, the judge noted.

He added: “Cheating is a choice … The accused had chosen to commit her offences with her eyes wide open.”

Even though there is no evidence that Lim had received any of the cheated money, District Judge Kow said it would be wrong to say that she did not benefit from it in any way.

He pointed out that if Agritrade’s business had suffered or the company had become insolvent because it failed to secure trade financing, then this would have adversely affected Lim - she would have either lost her job or suffered a pay cut.

“Because of her offences, Agritrade was able to stay afloat and this allowed (Lim) to draw a princely salary of S$32,000 a month, excluding bonuses,” he said.

Lim is the first person in connection to the case to be sentenced.

For each count of cheating, she could have been jailed for up to three years or fined, or both.

The offence of falsifying accounts carries a jail term of up to 10 years or a fine, or both.

This story was originally published in TODAY.

Source: TODAY/rc


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