Public Prosecutor v Lam Chen Fong

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeTay Yong Kwang JC
Judgment Date26 July 2002
Neutral Citation[2002] SGHC 160
Date26 July 2002
Subject MatterCriminal Procedure and Sentencing,Appropriate sentence,Court having option of passing life imprisonment,Relevant factors,Severity of offender's sentence,Offences,Corruption,Cases involving multiple charges,Charges involving transfer of property representing benefits of criminal conduct,Mitigating factors,Aggravating factors,Confiscation of benefits,ss 214 & 409 Penal Code (Cap 224),Sentencing,Amount dishonestly misappropriated,Degree of offender's culpability,Criminal Law,s 47(1)(b) Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (Cap 65A, 2000 Ed),Criminal breach of trust as agent,Unscrupulous scheme involving large number of victims
Docket NumberCriminal Case No 40 of 2002
Published date19 September 2003
Defendant CounselSubhas Anandan (briefed) and Kesavan Nair (Harry Elias Partnership)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Plaintiff CounselTan Siong Thye and Jeanne Lee (Deputy Public Prosecutors)

JUDGMENT GROUNDS OF DECISION

1 The Accused pleaded guilty to 22 charges comprising 20 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent under section 409 Penal Code, one charge under section 47(1)(b) Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act ("Confiscation of Benefits Act") involving the transfer of property which directly represented the benefits of his criminal conduct and one charge of agreeing to give gratification to another person to screen himself from legal punishment, an offence under section 214 Penal Code.

2 He also admitted the offences in 1,187 other charges under section 409 Penal Code, one charge under section 47(1)(b) Confiscation of Benefits Act, one charge under section 214 Penal Code and one charge under section 25(2) Money Changing and Remittance Businesses Act and consented that these offences be taken into consideration for the purpose of sentence.

3 Section 409 Penal Code provides for imprisonment for life or for up to 10 years and a discretionary fine. Section 47(6) Confiscation of Benefits Act provides for a fine not exceeding $200,000 or for imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years or both. The relevant limb in Section 214 Penal Code provides for imprisonment of up to three years and a discretionary fine.

THE STATEMENT OF FACTS

4 The Accused and his 75 year old grandmother were partners in Wen Long Money Changer operating in City Plaza, Geylang Road. The business was managed solely by the Accused. The business was originally involved in money changing only. On 8 April 2000, it expanded its scope to include money remittance services for Malaysian Ringgit, Indonesian Ruppiah and Chinese Renminbi when it was issued a remittance licence by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

5 A customer who wished to remit money overseas would enquire about the relevant exchange rate and, if it was acceptable to him, would hand over the money to the Accused who would record the details of the transaction and issue him a remittance receipt. Such receipts would acknowledge the amount of Singapore dollars received from the customer and the exchange rate used.

6 However, the Accused did no remittance himself but conducted all remittance transactions through other licensed remittance agents. He would fax Wen Long’s remittance application forms to such agents and deposit the cash collections directly into the agents’ bank accounts. The agents would then remit the money on behalf of Wen Long via telegraphic transfers and other means to the overseas beneficiaries.

7 The Accused was a compulsive gambler who betted heavily on horses, soccer results, 4-Digits and Toto. His losses kept mounting and, by May 2001, his gambling debts were more than half a million dollars. In desperation, the Accused decided to use the cash collected by Wen Long to settle his gambling debts. To do this, he had to generate a higher volume of business so that there would be more cash collections.

8 In June 2001, the Accused devised the following scheme to attract business to Wen Long. He offered exchange rates which were better than those offered in the market. At the material times, the market exchange rates for Renminbi were between RMB 4.46 and 4.5 to S$1 but the Accused’s rates were between RMB 4.8 and 4.95 to S$1. He also waived the S$20 commission for each transaction. Customers of Wen Long therefore got more RMB for their S$ for remittance than if they were to use other agents. Naturally, a large number of Chinese workers from the People’s Republic of China (‘PRC’) flocked to Wen Long to remit their money to their homeland.

9 Between June 2001 and January 2002, money was pouring into Wen Long at the daily rate of between S$300,000 and S$500,000. The Accused had to engage three persons to help him receive this daily stream of cash. However, he decided the exchange rate to offer the customers and he issued the receipts to them. The receipts would state the market exchange rate instead of the higher one offered by him. They would therefore state that the cash in S$ received was more than that actually handed over to Wen Long. He was afraid that if the actual exchange rate offered by him was reflected in the receipts, his auditors or the Monetary Authority of Singapore might ask him to explain how he was able to sustain the high exchange rate. He also dealt personally with the remittance agents that Wen Long used.

10 The Accused knew that the above scheme would result in exchange rate losses for Wen Long. He therefore imposed the condition that remittances would only be effected one month from the date of collection from the customers instead of the usual three to four working days from the date of collection. This meant that the beneficiaries would receive the cash later. This would enable the Accused to roll-over the funds. He would use the current collections for himself and then use subsequent collections to pay for the earlier collections when the remittance date was due. By this ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul’ method, he appeared to be fulfilling his obligations to his customers and could therefore avoid detection. He would also use a black marker to obliterate the date on the remitters’ application forms before faxing them to his agents. This was done so that the agents would not become suspicious about the delay in the transactions.

11 The Accused was thus using part of the current cash collections to fulfil his earlier obligations and spending the rest on his gambling addiction and a lavish lifestyle. By September 2001, he had used about S$3 million belonging to his customers to settle his gambling debts. Between June 2001 and January 2002, he was spending an average of some S$250,000 each weekend on bets placed here as well as in Malaysia and in Batam. He also began to frequent nightspots where he would spend lavishly on himself and his friends and give large tips to those serving and entertaining him. In January 2002, he asked a friend to rent an apartment in a condominium in Geylang. He paid the rental and furnished the apartment. He brought nightclub hostesses there.

12 The Accused had no other source of income. His extravagant lifestyle and his gambling addiction were funded solely by the money misappropriated from Wen Long’s cash collections.

13 On 23 January 2002, the Accused was told by one Ivan Teo that a few PRC nationals who were customers of Wen Long had lodged police reports against him as their money was not received in the PRC after the one-month contractual period. Ivan Teo suggested that the Accused leave Singapore for Malaysia, assuring him that...

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