Asia

27 months' jail for woman who cheated friend of $130,000 by claiming money was for founding PM Lee Kuan Yew

SINGAPORE – In need of cash, an avid gambler convinced her friend to withdraw his entire Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings of more than $53,000 in 1999 and hand over at least $500 of his salary every month from 2000 to 2013.

Dishwasher Tan Hwee Ngo, now 71, claimed that the money was for Singapore’s late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Petrol pump attendant Tan Soy Kiang, who has mild intellectual disability, believed her lies and did as he was told even though he earned only between $700 and $1,300 a month.

The court had earlier heard that Tan cheated Mr Tan, now 76, of at least $130,000 in total.

The con woman was sentenced on Monday (Aug 31) to two years and three months’ jail after District Judge Terence Tay found her guilty of 169 cheating charges in July following a trial.

The judge had said that Tan was “unabashed at using her age as both a sword and a shield to levy unfounded allegations at the investigation officers and to portray herself as a hapless victim”.

The court had heard that Mr Tan started working as a petrol pump attendant in 1992.

There were also periods when he worked two jobs, as a cleaner or factory worker, on top of working at the petrol kiosk.

Mr Tan and Tan had a common friend, former cleaner Boo Sok Hiang, 71, also known as Ah Hiang.

In her submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min said that Mr Tan and Madam Boo had been friends for nearly 30 years after they met while watching Teochew operas. She introduced him to Tan around May 1999, the court heard.

Tan later claimed that she needed money for Mr Lee.

On May 11 that year, Mr Tan visited a CPF service centre and filled up an application form to withdraw his entire CPF savings in the Ordinary Account.

More than $53,000 was then credited into his bank account the following month.

The DPP added: “Mr Tan sought Ah Hiang’s assistance to withdraw the CPF monies from his… bank account and pass them to the accused. Consequently, Mr Tan entrusted Ah Hiang with his ATM card and personal identification number to make the withdrawals.

“Mr Tan had enlisted Ah Hiang’s help as he was busy with work and had no time to make the withdrawals.”

Madam Boo then told Mr Tan that she withdrew the money and passed it to Tan.

“Mr Tan further confirmed that to date, he never got back any of the CPF savings that he had withdrawn in 1999,” said the prosecutor.

By using similar lies, Tan also managed to convince Mr Tan to hand over at least $500 of his salary every month.

Mr Tan passed the money to Madam Boo, who would then hand a “substantial portion” to Tan.

In 2013, Mr Tan moved in with his niece, Madam Pamela Lim, and her husband.

The couple then noticed that Mr Tan would borrow money from them and Madam Lim’s mother almost every week.

This struck them as peculiar since he earned money from his jobs and did not appear to have any expenses to foot.

Madam Lim also found out from her mother that her uncle had withdrawn all his CPF monies when he turned 55 and that the entire sum was gone.

Madam Lim and her husband then checked with Mr Tan, the court heard.

“Mr Tan explained that the accused and Ah Hiang told him something about a failed business investment involving Yeo Hiap Seng, which was taken over by the government, such that he now needed to make repayments to ‘Lao Lee’,” the DPP said, in a reference to Mr Lee.

Madam Lim then lodged a police report on Feb 3, 2014.

During the trial, Tan tried to shift the blame to Madam Boo, who had died of heart disease on April 21, 2016, before the trial started.

But the DPP noted that in an earlier police statement, Tan admitted that she had cheated Mr Tan.

She also admitted in the statement that she needed the money to gamble.

On Monday, the court heard that Tan will be appealing against her conviction and sentence. Her bail has been set at $20,000.

For each count of cheating, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

Additional reporting by Dominic Low

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