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Former SPRING Singapore exec jailed for conspiring with friends to cheat statutory board of S$155,000

Former SPRING Singapore exec jailed for conspiring with friends to cheat statutory board of S$155,000

Photo illustration of a gavel (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A 46-year-old man, who used his position as senior executive at SPRING Singapore to conspire with four friends and dupe the statutory board of almost S$155,000, was sentenced to four years' jail on Monday (Mar 18).

Leong Weng Cheou, 46, had pleaded guilty to 30 charges of forgery and cheating, with an additional 105 taken into consideration.

The court heard that when Leong was working with SPRING Singapore, now known as Enterprise Singapore, he assessed applications and claims for Innovation and Capability Vouchers (ICVs).

The ICV was a S$5,000 voucher that SPRING granted to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to encourage innovation. Under the ICV scheme, each SME could apply for up to two vouchers per category and claim reimbursements.

Leong came up with a plan to defraud SPRING in 2015 because he disapproved of how SPRING disbursed S$5,000 to applicants whom he thought were making claims for solutions that were worth only a fraction of that sum, Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew said.

After noticing this perceived weakness in the scheme's application assessment, Leong decided to use false documents to trick SPRING into disbursing money to shell business entities.

He roped in four friends to help him: Soh Eng Luan, 38; 35-year-old Lionel Wong Yong Jun; Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, 41; and 44-year-old Wong Ping Ling.

He taught them how to register the shell entities, which were not real businesses, with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority, explaining to them that the supporting documents for the ICV claims would be forged.

He handpicked these friends as he felt they needed money and promised them cash for joining his scheme.

Leong forged more than 100 documents including fake quotations, invoices, receipts and bank statements, successfully claiming S$154,999.63 from the stat board for 31 claims in 2015 and 2016.

He split the funds equally with each friend involved in each claim, receiving about S$77,500 for himself, which he spent on personal expenses, the court heard.

CO-CONSPIRATOR LODGES POLICE REPORT

The scheme was exposed in late 2017 after Leong gathered his four friends at a law firm to talk about returning money to SPRING, as he knew that the statutory board was improving its auditing processes and that the fraud would eventually be uncovered.

After the meeting, one of his friends consulted her own lawyer and lodged a police report without Leong's knowledge, admitting that she had conspired with him to cheat SPRING.

"As a result of fraudulent applications and claims like those made under Leong's plan, SPRING expended more costs and effort into implementing processes to identify and distinguish fraudulent applications and claims from genuine ones," said the prosecutor.

After investigations began, all five cheaters repaid the money cheated to SPRING in full.

District Judge Mathew Joseph said the case involved a large number of charges against Leong, who was the mastermind of the conspiracy.

"Your role was crucial as you knew the inner workings of how SPRING (operates)," said the judge. He said that Leong exploited the scheme for his own benefit.

The judge noted that Leong had come clean about his offences, had no previous convictions and had expressed remorse.

"It's also vital that public funds are seen by all government employees as a precious and scarce resource so as to promote accountability and good governance within the Government," he said.

Soh, who admitted the crime to the police, is set to plead guilty this Friday. The cases for the other three are pending before the courts.

Source: CNA/ll(hs)

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