Asia

6 years' jail for 77-year-old man who misappropriated more than $4.7 million

SINGAPORE – A certified public accountant with over 40 years’ standing misappropriated funds from various sources, including a dead person’s estate, to feed overseas investments which turned out to be scams.

In total, Jerry Lee Kian Eng took more than $4.7 million, directing much of the money to bank accounts in the Philippines.

The 77-year-old had, in one instance, conspired with his long-term life partner, 74-year-old Alison See Lay Eng.

Lee was on Wednesday (Aug 25) sentenced to six years’ jail while See was sentenced to two years’ jail.

Lee had used monies entrusted to him to make payments for what he thought were “overseas investments”.

District Judge Marvin Bay on Wednesday said Lee was in fact a long-term victim of a scam and had never received any money from his “investments”.

The judge said: “The psychiatric reports offer some insight that Mr Lee did suffer from psychological conditions of adjustment disorder and overvalued ideas disorder, which impaired his better judgment.

“General deterrence must nevertheless take a dominant role where Mr Lee, an accounting professional, has… committed an offence of such a scale.”

Lee had pleaded guilty in May to one count of criminal breach of trust as an agent, involving more than $1.2 million.

Five other charges involving the remaining amount were considered during sentencing. He committed the offences between 2014 and 2017.

See admitted in May that she engaged in a conspiracy with him to misappropriate some of the cash, totalling more than US$2.2 million ($3 million), in 2016.

At the time of the offences, Lee was the managing partner of chartered accounting firm Ng, Lee & Associates, as well as shareholder and adviser of DFK Singapore Corporate Services, a firm that provides business process outsourcing services.

See was a director at DFK.

Lee began making what he believed were “overseas investments” in the 1990s.

In earlier proceedings, Deputy Public Prosecutor Suhas Malhotra said that over the years, Lee was told that his investment funds and profits had gone through various foreign authorities, such as the United States’ Department of Justice, US Department of Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board.

“(Lee) was asked by the purported foreign authorities to make various payments, such as capital gain taxes, litigation fees and penalties, in order to recover his invested sums and profits,” added the DPP.

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The couple committed the offences so that Lee could make such payments.

One of the victims was a company called Fan Hua, which in 2013 had approached DFK to incorporate it in Singapore.

Alison See then approached her nephew, See Kok Tai, to be Fan Hua’s director, and the company was incorporated in March that year.

But See Kok Tai was director only in name, while Fan Hua was managed by its representative.

Even though the Sees were signatories of its local bank accounts, they had no authority over the use of its funds.

Around 2015 or 2016, purported representatives of the US government contacted Lee and claimed that he would receive more than US$9.7 million from his “investments”.

He was then told to make various payments to overseas accounts in the Philippines to receive the monies.

Lee, who did not have enough funds, approached Fan Hua’s representative for a loan but was turned down.

He approached Alison See for help and told her that he could pay back Fan Hua once he received the monies.

She agreed to help him and prepared multiple unauthorised withdrawals totalling more than US$2.2 million from Fan Hua’s bank account in 2016.

Most of the funds were then transferred to bank accounts in the Philippines.

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The offences came to light in November 2016 when Fan Hua’s representative wanted to make a payment over an invoice, but found out that there were insufficient funds in its bank account.

Lee then admitted that he had taken the monies.

For his role in facilitating the withdrawals, See Kok Tai was sentenced to four weeks’ jail after he pleaded guilty to an offence under the Companies Act.

In 2015, Lee also made unauthorised withdrawals totalling more than $1.2 million from a dead person’s estate.

He had been appointed by the court to be the estate’s administrator the previous year.

Lee transferred most of the monies to an overseas bank account in the Philippines maintained by a firm called Oppman Management Inc.

Lee’s bail on Wednesday was set at $110,000 while Alison See was offered bail of $25,000. They were ordered to surrender themselves at the State Courts on Oct 8 to begin serving their sentences.

For criminal breach of trust, an offender can be jailed for up to seven years and fined.

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