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Right-hand man of mastermind in S$39.9m SkillsFuture fraud gets over 13 years' jail

This is the largest case of fraud against a government institution in Singapore, with more than S$21 million still unaccounted for.

SINGAPORE: The right-hand man of a mastermind who engineered the largest fraud involving Government funds to date was sentenced to jail for 13 years and nine months on Wednesday (May 31).

Lim Wee Hong David, 44, was part of the syndicate that submitted more than 8,300 fraudulent claims to SkillsFuture Singapore for training course subsidies when no training was conducted.

SkillsFuture was duped into disbursing almost S$40 million (US$29.6m), of which S$21.3 million was laundered away and remains unaccounted for.

Lim pleaded guilty to 15 charges, which include conspiring to convert or transfer criminal proceeds, conspiring to conceal criminal proceeds and forgery of a valuable security. Another 33 charges were considered in sentencing.

The syndicate exploited the SkillsFuture Singapore Course Fee Grant scheme, where business entities in Singapore can apply to SkillsFuture for a subsidy if they send their employees to attend skills training courses with registered training providers.

The masterminds behind the fraud, husband-and-wife pair Ng Cheng Kwee and Lee Lai Leng, registered nine entities as applicant entities or training providers from January 2017.

Lim was roped in as he was Ng's friend since 2011. He also introduced another co-accused to the couple, who later helped in the criminal scheme.

The group agreed on a scheme to submit false course fee grant claims to cheat SkillsFuture into disbursing training grants.

The mastermind couple used different computers to submit such false claims online, using their relatives' details and Singpass login credentials.

Between April and October 2017, the nine entities submitted 8,381 course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims, lying that three training providers had provided courses to 25,141 employees of the six applicant entities.

Most of the applications and claims were approved automatically, with S$39.9 million disbursed to eight of the nine entities.

After the money was disbursed to the corporate bank accounts of the eight entities, more than S$27.8 million was withdrawn in cash by members of the syndicate.

Lim was involved in the scheme from the start, helping to submit false claims, recruiting a friend to submit false claims and encashing cheques.

He also acted on Ng's instructions by collecting S$2.6 million in two bags and passing the money to two unknown people.

SkillsFuture noticed that the nine entities used by the syndicate had made abnormally high numbers of course fee grant claim submissions.

It lodged a police report in November 2017.

The prosecution sought at least 168 months to 178 months' jail for Lim, calling this an unprecedented case of fraud on a public institution.

The public funds allocated to SkillsFuture were meant to help Singapore businesses train and upskill their employees and build a more resilient workforce, said the prosecution.

Instead, Lim and his co-accused pilfered the public funds, causing immense financial losses and reputational harm to SkillsFuture.

Lim's jail term was backdated to November 2017. He has been on remand for more than five years.

The other members have been sentenced to varying jail terms, with Ng receiving 17 years and nine months' jail in 2021. His wife was given 14 years' jail.

SkillsFuture previously said it had acquired new capabilities such as fraud analytics since the incident. It has also put in place new processes to prevent, detect and respond to fraud and abuse.

Source: CNA/ll(gr)


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