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Singapore

Former accounts clerk gets 18 years' jail for embezzling S$46 million to feed gambling habit

SINGAPORE: A former accounts clerk embezzled S$46 million over seven years, in order to feed an extravagant gambling habit that often saw him bet more than S$100,000 at Singapore Pools every week.

On Thursday (Feb 7), Richard Tiang Teng Hoong, 69, was sentenced to 18 years' jail, after being convicted on 15 charges including criminal breach of trust as a servant and using the benefits of criminal conduct.

This is an unusually long sentence meted out in the State Courts, just short of the maximum 20 years they can impose. It was not revealed in court why the case was not dealt with in the High Court instead.

The prosecution called the case "criminal breach of trust of the highest order, which has resulted in the highest amount of monetary losses in Singapore's history of financial crime".

The court heard that Tiang started working at Double Ace Trading Company in 1990 as an accounts clerk, where he assisted the company's directors in managing bank accounts and financial matters of various offshore companies.

Between 2007 and 2014, Tiang misappropriated about S$46.2 million over 300 occasions from the HSBC bank accounts of four companies managed by Double Ace: Esben Finance, Lismore Trading Company, Incredible Power and Rayley Co.

The companies were in the timber trading business, which typically involved the purchase of timber from suppliers in Sarawak, Malaysia to sell to their overseas customers. They used Double Ace to manage their operations and financial affairs.

As Double Ace's accounts clerk, Tiang was entrusted with overseeing the companies' finances. Instead of doing so, he "leveraged on the authority and trust reposed in him" to meticulously plan and execute his scheme to embezzle large sums of money, the prosecution said.

He did this by issuing false payment vouchers and getting authorised signatories to sign off on blank cheques for purported business.

He covered up the crime by making false entries in accounting records, and spent the money he stole on gambling.

HE SPLASHED LARGE SUMS OF MONEY ON GAMBLING

Tiang often placed bets worth more than S$100,000 at Singapore Pools every week, according to court documents. He also visited the casino at Resorts World Sentosa about three times a week, spending S$20,000 on each visit.

He was nabbed only after the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office, under the police's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), began investigating the case.

The police seized his assets and cash, including about S$135,000 in cash of different currencies, more than S$75,000 in three bank accounts and a gold bar worth S$2,550.

Tiang surrendered S$80,000 in proceeds from the sale of a Lexus car, S$2.2 million from liquidation of shares he held, and S$425,000 from the sale of his share in a condominium unit at The Estuary.

The total amount that was seized or surrendered came up to about S$2.9 million, or about 6.3 per cent of the money Tiang had misappropriated over seven years.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lim asked for a sentence of at least 18 years' jail, saying that "there are few precedents which even come close to the total amount involved in this case, and even fewer in the past decade".

"He basically treated bank accounts of four offshore companies as his personal piggy banks to take from," said the prosecutor.

DEFENCE ASKS COURT NOT TO IMPOSE CRUSHING 'LIFE' SENTENCE

Tiang's lawyer Paul Loy asked instead for 14 years' jail, pointing out in particular his client's old age.

He asked the court not to impose a sentence that would effectively be a life sentence, as it would be crushing, and pointed out that Tiang "readily confessed from the moment he was called up for police investigations".

"Up until last week, he was still working at (Double Ace)," said Mr Loy. "The company never complained against him."

Mr Loy said the restitution given by Tiang, though described by the prosecution as a small percentage of the monetary losses, was "all he has".

CRIME DOES NOT PAY: JUDGE

Addressing Tiang, who was out on bail of S$1 million, District Judge Mathew Joseph said the case was an "astonishing" one with more than S$43 million in losses still unaccounted for.

He said Tiang had worked for the company for 17 years, gaining a high level of trust by his employers before he began committing the offences, spreading out the amounts over bank accounts and using different modes of payment to avoid suspicion.

He added that he had noted Tiang's family circumstances, church and community contributions and also his contributions to Double Ace as a long-serving employee of more than two decades.

However, Tiang was a "deviously methodical" criminal motivated by "personal, rapacious greed", said the judge.

The sentence must be long enough to show that "crime does not pay", he said, and Tiang cannot serve a token imprisonment term merely to be released and enjoy a rich lifestyle after.

"This could be unconscionable in the eyes of any society that values thrift and hard work as a proper and right way to reach success," said the judge.

He allowed Tiang 15 minutes after the hearing to speak with his family members and friends, who packed the courtroom.

Source: CNA/ll(aj)

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