Police officer in debt from wife's hospital bills uses brother's name to apply for loans, gets jail
SINGAPORE: A police officer facing financial trouble after his wife had an emergency caesarean operation used his brother's name and forged bank documents to obtain credit cards and loans.
Muhammad Aqib Mohammad Akhtar, 31, was sentenced to 20 weeks' jail on Tuesday (Nov 23). He pleaded guilty to a charge each of forgery and obstruction of justice. Another four charges were considered in sentencing.
The court heard that Aqib was an officer with the Singapore Police Force for nine years when he ran into financial trouble in February 2020.
He incurred about S$16,000 of hospital bills, as his wife needed to undergo an emergency caesarean operation to give birth to his child. His wife was also under a debt repayment scheme and had to repay S$1,000 per month.
Aqib paid for about half of the bills by credit card. He had been investigated in 2016 for "financial embarrassment", a term for when a civil servant is an undischarged bankrupt or exceeds a certain amount of unsecured debts and liabilities.
As he was worried about his expenses, Aqib decided to use his brother's name to repay his credit card debt.
He downloaded a smartphone application to edit PDF documents and downloaded his notice of assessment for the year 2019. He then used the app to replace his name, NRIC number and address with his brother's particulars.
He asked his brother for photos of his NRIC, saying he needed it to help him apply for a job as a GrabFood delivery rider. His brother accordingly sent him photos of his NRIC, and Aqib submitted an online application to OCBC Bank for a credit card using his brother's particulars in May 2020.
Aqib also forged a Central Provident Fund statement and payslips that Singapore Airlines had purportedly given to his brother. He used these documents to make four applications for credit cards or loans to four other banks that month: UOB, CIMB, Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank.
OCBC Bank discovered that the notice of assessment was forged, as the addresses in the document did not match. None of Aqib's applications was approved by the banks, and no loss was caused.
Police began investigating the matter after an OCBC Bank officer lodged a police report.
HIS BROTHER WAS ARRESTED
Officers from the Commercial Affairs Department looked for Aqib's brother as part of their investigations and arrested him. When Aqib found out, he deleted documents from his phone including the forged notice of assessment, as well as his brother's phone bill and CPF history.
Aqib was interviewed by the police on Jun 4, 2020. His phone was seized and the deleted documents retrieved via forensic extraction.
The prosecution asked for six months' jail, noting that Aqib had forged a document that was purportedly issued by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.
He also implicated an innocent third party, his own brother, in police investigations by using his details in the forged document, said the prosecutor.
Defence lawyer S S Dhillon asked for the minimum jail term possible, saying his client has been suspended from the force and has three children with his wife.
"He has served SPF with distinction for the last 10 years and his last held rank was staff sergeant," said Mr Dhillon.
He said Aqib gave "10 best years of his life" to SPF, and is "a man who is proud to wear the uniform".
He said Aqib "never wanted to implicate his brother", and told the investigating officer "my brother is innocent", and hence his brother was never charged.
The judge pointed out that his brother would be legally liable anyway as the credit cards would have been sent to his address.
When he asked why Aqib deleted the documents in his phone, Mr Dhillon said it was "guilt".
"As a policeman, he will know this is evidence, right," countered the judge.
"At no point of time did he realise - that if I delete this ... I will be perverting the course of justice. Even as a police officer he doesn't know that," said Mr Dhillon.
He was reminded of the danger of qualifying the guilty plea, and reiterated that his client admitted to the charges.
In sentencing, the judge took note that no loans or credit cards were issued, but that five banks were involved, on top of an innocent party who was arrested by the police.
He allowed Aqib to defer his jail term to January so he could complete some examinations for a degree he is pursuing.
For committing an act that has a tendency to obstruct the course of justice, he could have been jailed up to seven years, fined, or both.
For forgery, he could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined.