SINGAPORE: A 24-year-old deliveryman began dating a married woman 19 years his senior after delivering a parcel to her door, and subsequently cheated his parents of their life savings for her.
Lai Sze Yin, who is now 28, was sentenced to 15 months' jail on Monday (Jun 7). He pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiring to cheat and two charges of cheating, with another five charges taken into consideration.
His parents, who have since forgiven him, pleaded to the court for leniency on his behalf. He was allowed to begin his sentence later this month.
The court heard that Lai became acquainted with his co-accused, Joceyln Kwek Sok Koon, sometime in July 2016 when he delivered a parcel to her home. Kwek faces similar charges and is contesting them.
At the time, Kwek was selling bags and exchanged contact details with Lai before chatting with him over WhatsApp.
Kwek, who is now 47, subsequently engaged Lai's delivery services and they started engaging in a romantic relationship, the court heard.
At all times, Lai knew that Kwek was married and had two children, said the prosecutor.
As Lai was uncomfortable with revealing Kwek's real identity to his parents, she invented a persona known as Rachel Lam Xin Yi, who was supposedly the same age as Lai and studying at the National University of Singapore.
Kwek never met Lai's parents, but spoke to them via her Rachel persona over the phone.
However, Lai began cheating his parents and his younger sister of sums of money totalling S$150,454, after Kwek allegedly instructed him to do so.
HE CHEATED HIS MOTHER, HIS FATHER AND SISTER
On one occasion in May 2017, Kwek told Lai she needed about S$8,000 to fund her business. The pair then allegedly plotted to lie to Lai's 56-year-old mother that he needed a loan to purchase a car.
His mother gave him S$9,000, and Lai handed the sum to Kwek, who allegedly used it to fund her business.
In March 2017, Lai again allegedly plotted with Kwek, this time to cheat Lai's 55-year-old father.
He told his father that he needed a loan of S$5,778 to pay for his Singapore Institute of Management University school fees.
His father transferred the money to Lai, who passed some of it to Kwek.
In October 2017, Kwek allegedly instigated Lai to deceive his father that there was an investment opportunity with the United Overseas Bank that yielded an interest of 21 per cent on the principal amount.
His father transferred Lai a total of S$80,000. Of this, Lai transferred S$77,000 to Kwek's daughter's bank account. He used the remainder to repay a loan that he had obtained for Kwek.
In May 2017, Kwek allegedly instigated Lai to cheat his younger sister. He lied to his sister, who is three years his junior, that she could earn an interest of 30 per cent on the principal amount she deposited into a bank account. Lai's sister then gave him S$1,000, which he handed over to Kwek.
Court documents did not reveal how the crimes came to light.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Phoebe Tan asked for at least 22 months' jail for Lai, saying that he had betrayed his family's trust even though he was not the main mastermind.
HE HAD ALTRUISTIC MOTIVE: DEFENCE
Lai's lawyer, Mr Anthony Wong from Lee & Lee, highlighted his client's clean record and plea of guilt. He said Lai had "an altruistic motive" for committing the offences, as he genuinely believed Kwek wanted to help his parents grow their money in a short period of time via her profitable businesses and high-yield investments.
He believed that the money was further secured by "her huge matrimonial assets", the court heard.
Mr Wong said Kwek is the mastermind and instigator, and that Lai was under her "influence and deception", trusting her and simply following her instructions.
He claimed Lai was "manipulated" by a much older woman and was "a mere puppet throughout", handing over everything to her and not retaining any portion for himself except for one or two small sums used according to Kwek's instructions.
Lai has been working hard as a delivery driver, said the defence, and has voluntarily made restitution of about S$23,000 to the victims.
His parents have since forgiven him "fully and unconditionally" and he has strong support from his family, said the lawyer, who tried to ask for a report assessing Lai's suitability for probation.
JUDGE NOT PERSUADED THAT HE HAD ALTRUISTIC MOTIVE
District Judge Victor Yeo noted that Lai was 24 when he committed the offences, having completed National Service and with a diploma in aerospace electronics.
He knew Kwek was married with two children, but engaged in a "charade" with her and conspired with her to deceive his family, said Judge Yeo.
He said he was "not entirely persuaded" that Lai had an altruistic motive in relation to the larger sums that were cheated, but accepted that Lai did not obtain any monetary benefit.
He accepted that Lai is truly remorseful, and noted that his parents had pleaded for a lenient sentence on his behalf, saying he was also a victim who had been manipulated and exploited.
"The accused has promised his parents that he would work extremely hard to return all their life savings at the soonest," said the judge.
He granted a deferment of the jail term for Lai to recover from stomach flu, but rejected an application by his lawyer for his phone to be returned, as it might be used in Kwek's trial.
Kwek is set to go to trial for her involvement in the alleged crimes next month.
For each charge of cheating, Lai could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined.