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Syndicate member behind S$2.5m cross-border investment scam gets jail, squandered millions at casino

Syndicate member behind S$2.5m cross-border investment scam gets jail, squandered millions at casino

A view of high-rise financial district office buildings from the Marina Bay promenade in Singapore. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: A member of a syndicate linked to S$2.5 million worth of cross-border investment scams, perpetuated via shell companies with fake office fronts at Marina Bay Financial Centre, was given 12 years and one month's jail on Monday (Apr 19).

China national Wei Yong, 44, gambled away most of his criminal proceeds, transacting a total of S$30 million at Singapore's casinos, and was unable to make any restitution.

Wei pleaded guilty to five charges, including cheating and possessing a fake Myanmar passport. Another six charges were considered in sentencing.

The court heard that Wei was an odd-job worker in Hubei and Beijing before joining a syndicate sometime in 2015 and 2016. The group came up with a plan in Beijing in 2016 to set up and use shell companies in order to cheat people of their money.

The shell companies included American Ageas PE Fund Inc, Pfizer Private Fund Inc and Nanyang Capital Management.

THE SCAM

The syndicate aimed to deceive high net-worth victims into believing that the shell companies could raise investment funds on behalf of their businesses, by portraying an image that the companies operated in established financial hubs such as the United States and Singapore.

They would ask the victims to transfer administrative fees to facilitate fundraising and cover associated costs. The victims - who were from China and South Korea - were also invited to attend talks and workshops on finance, investments and business in China, Singapore and the USA.

To reinforce the impression that the shell companies had a credible business presence in Singapore, the victims were flown over and invited to a business office in the Marina Bay Financial Centre in Singapore's central business district.

Members of the syndicate, including the accused, would also be dressed professionally and in the office to perpetuate the scam of a legitimate business.

In reality, the group rented meeting locations on an ad-hoc basis to deceive the victims and get them to sign contracts at rented boardrooms, before instructing them to transfer fees via remittance services. 

Between March 2017 and July 2019, four victims transferred sums ranging from 930,000 yuan (S$180,000) to 2.6 million yuan (S$500,000) to the syndicate.

After collecting the money, the group members became uncontactable. 

Since November 2017, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) received multiple reports about a cross-border investment scam perpetuated by a transnational criminal syndicate based in China. A total of 10 victims based in China lodged 10 police reports with SPF. They lost S$2.5 million in total.

FAKE PASSPORT

In November 2019, the police arrested Wei at Changi Airport and found a fake Myanmar passport on him bearing his photograph. He admitted arranging to buy the passport for 40,000 yuan in early 2019 from a Chinese agent so he could enjoy "benefits" from owning a Myanmar passport, such as buying houses and land in Myanmar at lower prices.

He intended to fly to Myanmar to test if he could re-enter Singapore using the fake passport, but was caught while trying to leave Singapore with his China passport.

Wei said he was a frequent patron of the Marina Bay Sands Casino and the Resorts World Sentosa Casino, gambling away most of his share of the criminal proceeds.

Casino records showed that he transacted S$30 million in Singapore's casinos between May 2015 and November 2019. To date, no restitution has been made, whether by Wei or his accomplices. Some syndicate members are still at large.

"BRAZEN" OPERATION

District Judge Marvin Bay noted the "very considerable planning and premeditation in the brazen financial scam here".

"I note the meticulously planned attempts to inject a veneer of legitimacy that the fictitious companies had a business presence in Singapore included renting lavishly furnished boardrooms in Marina Bay Financial Centre 1 for meetings with and presentations to victims," he said.

"There is a need to deal decisively with syndicate-run scams of this nature."

For each count of cheating, Wei could have been jailed a maximum of 10 years and fined. For possessing a false passport, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to S$10,000.

Source: CNA/ll(ac)

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