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Singapore

Former People's Association employee fell for love scams and helped handle criminal proceeds, gets jail

Former People's Association employee fell for love scams and helped handle criminal proceeds, gets jail

View of the State Courts. (File photo: Hanidah Amin)

SINGAPORE: A former constituency manager with the People's Association fell "victim" to love scams by purported foreign men and helped them to open bank accounts and transfer cash that turned out to be criminal proceeds.

For her role in the crimes involving about S$430,000, 64-year-old Ng Koon Lay was on Wednesday (Aug 12) sentenced to 20 months' jail.

She pleaded guilty to three charges under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act and one count of dishonestly receiving stolen property.

Another 16 charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

The court heard that Ng met an unidentified person she knew as Greg L Johnson on Facebook in March 2015.

She asked for a loan from Greg, as she had some financial difficulties, and Greg later told her that he had a friend who was willing to loan her S$9,000 with a catch - Ng had to provide her bank account to receive the funds.

She had to forward the funds to a designated bank account before she would be allowed to deduct the sum she needed.

Ng took up the offer and provided her UOB bank account to Greg, receiving a sum of S$71,000 and transferring S$62,000 to another account as instructed.

In September 2016, Ng received a call from the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), asking her to attend an interview and warning her not to receive any more money in her bank account, as it had been used to receive illegal funds.

The S$71,000 received in her account had been transferred by a victim of an email spoofing scam, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Jordon Li.

Ng attended the CAD interview and was warned again not to use her bank account to receive funds from unknown people, and to stop contacting Greg. She was also told to report the matter to the police if she received any further funds from Greg.

She surrendered her Facebook account, which she had been using to liaise with Greg, to the CAD.

SHE SET UP SECOND FACEBOOK ACCOUNT DESPITE CAD'S WARNINGS

However, she set up a second Facebook account to contact Greg, despite CAD's warnings, and asked for a further loan.

She was given a similar offer to deduct funds after using her bank account to transfer money. She received US$88,000 (S$118,360) in her Citibank account and transferred S$89,860 to a bank account belonging to a company.

She also transferred S$22,000 to another account and retained S$6,500, which she used for her own purposes.

The US$88,000 turned out to be stolen property that had been cheated from a staff member of a company, who had been deceived into transferring the cash.

Ng also similarly helped another unknown person known only as David Bay, whom she met online in 2015 and contacted via WhatsApp.

In 2017, David contacted Ng and told her he needed her to provide bank accounts to receive funds, purportedly meant for his hospitalisation fees and his business.

In return, Ng would be allowed to use some of the funds, and she agreed to help David, opening two bank accounts for this purpose.

At this time, she had already been given repeated warnings by CAD not to provide her bank accounts for such purposes, and was under two sets of investigations.

"Despite this, she agreed to help David, whom she had never met before," said the prosecutor. 

"The accused was also aware that David had lied to her, as David had continued to correspond with the accused over WhatsApp, despite claiming to be incarcerated in prison."

After opening the Maybank and CIMB accounts, Ng mailed the ATM cards and their PIN numbers to a Malaysian address provided by David.

She retained control of the CIMB account via Internet banking. Between Sep 4, 2017 and Sep 18, 2017, four victims of Internet love scams transferred a total of S$47,050 into her Maybank account.

Another victim of such a love scam transferred S$174,750 into the CIMB account between Aug 18 and Aug 27 that year.

The money in both accounts was mostly withdrawn via ATM overseas, but Ng used part of the funds in the CIMB account for her own purposes.

The prosecutor, Mr Li, asked for at least 22 months' jail, noting the significant sum involved and the fact that Ng had ignored CAD's specific warnings.

ACCUSED WAS A VICTIM OF LOVE SCAMS: DEFENCE

Defence lawyer Tan Hee Joek asked instead for a year's jail, saying that his client was herself a victim of love scams.

She was wooed by both Greg and David, believing they were an American sailor and an oil trader from Switzerland respectively.

Believing that Greg's luggage had been detained by Malaysian customs as it contained more than US$1 million in cash, Ng went to Kuala Lumpur in 2014 where she was shown the purported luggage containing the cash.

She transferred more than S$160,000 to "help" Greg, selling her three-room HDB flat and borrowing from others to do so.

She similarly believed David when he said he had been detained by Singapore Customs for failing to declare a large amount of cash he was bringing into the country.

Ng's lawyer told the court that his client was "a lonely single woman who carried a burden of looking after her mentally and physically disabled sister" and was a "perfect vulnerable victim" to be exploited by Greg and David.

"Ng has already paid a severe price for her blinded love by losing her livelihood, her flat and her savings," said Mr Tan.

He said Ng had worked as an administrative employee in a Community Centre under the People's Association from 1982, rising to the post of Constituency Manager and earning about S$5,000 per month.

However, after the CAD informed the PA that she had been charged, Ng lost her job and is now working as a clerk on a salary of S$1,500 per month, said the lawyer.

For dishonestly receiving stolen property, Ng could have been jailed for up to five years, fined, or both.

For assisting another person to retain benefits from criminal conduct, she could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to S$500,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(rw)

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