SINGAPORE: A woman who lied and forged a retrenchment letter from her employer to qualify for COVID-19 grants amounting to S$4,000 was jailed for seven months on Monday (Sep 13).
Tiong Shi Lin, 32, successfully cheated the system twice by lying on her application forms and forging a retrenchment letter, according to court documents.
She pleaded guilty to two counts of cheating and one count of forgery.
After she was terminated from a company last February, she started her next job as an administrative and accounts assistant in the human resources department of a software company in April the same year.
On May 5, Tiong applied for the COVID-19 support grant, declaring that she had been unemployed since Feb 2, 2020.
“She knew that she did not meet the eligibility criteria to apply for the COVID-19 support grant, as from April 2020 onwards she was employed by Assurance Technology,” court documents read.
Eligible applicants received three consecutive monthly payments based on their last-drawn monthly income, subject to a cap of $800 per month for those who had lost their job.
However, as she did not provide sufficient supporting documents showing her loss of employment, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) rejected her application two weeks later.
LYING ABOUT EMPLOYMENT
On May 20, Tiong applied for the grant again, this time with supporting documents. She falsely declared that she had received no salary in the months of March, April, and May 2020.
She provided screenshots of a series of WhatsApp messages between herself and her former supervisor at the company from which she was terminated.
She provided CPF statements from January to April 2020, intentionally omitting the statement from May so that she could hide the CPF contribution she received that month, court documents said.
This time, her application was approved and the MSF disbursed S$2,400 over three months.
In October, when the second window for the support grant opened, she applied again. She had prepared in advance for the application.
FORGING RETRENCHMENT LETTER
On Aug 17, she forged a retrenchment letter purporting to have been issued by Assurance Technology, stating that her employment was to be terminated in about a month.
To prepare the letter, Tiong accessed Assurance Technology’s shared human resources folder and downloaded a template termination letter onto her company-issued laptop.
She then typed in her particulars, and amended the letter to state that her employment would be terminated as the company needed to cut manpower.
She then printed it, signing off with a random signature. In her application, she provided the retrenchment letter along with screenshots purporting to show that she had applied for other jobs. She also listed a fake name and phone number for a contact person in Assurance Technology.
Her application was approved and she received S$1,600 over two months. However, before she could get the third disbursement, her offences came to light.
Tiong had returned her company-issued laptop to her colleague for repairs. That was when the colleague discovered a printed copy of the forged letter in the laptop bag, according to court documents.
A police reported was lodged on Nov 24. Tiong was arrested on the same day.
In the weeks following her arrest, Tiong initially lied about her offences when questioned by the police. She claimed that she had never applied for the grant, and on that an MSF officer had submitted two of the applications on her behalf.
Asking for a jail term of eight months, Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Phang said that Tiong exploited the COVID-19 pandemic and the Government’s response to it, “for illicit gain”.
“The accused’s actions are a self-centred exploitation of the unique circumstances and pressures imposed by the pandemic,” Mr Phang said.
He also said that Tiong’s actions were “clearly” premeditated and that her offences were made with a “high level of sophistication”.
Mr Phang also noted that her offences were hard to detect, given MSF's "limited resources to administer a nationwide financial assistance scheme" and the "significant" time pressure the agency was under to distribute the funds to applicants.
"Had the accused not happened to leave a copy of the forged termination letter in her laptop bag, the offences may not have been discovered,” Mr Phang said.
For each count of cheating, Tiong could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined.