Singaporean jailed in Australia for money laundering

Man had used casino there to 'wash' cash gained from criminal activity, says court

A Singaporean man is serving nine months' jail in Australia after he was found guilty of two counts of money laundering last year.

Some time in April last year, Koh Yan Wei arrived in Sydney where he told Customs officials he was not carrying more than A$10,000 (S$9,800), the maximum amount that can be brought into the country. Within eight days of arriving, Koh went to the Star City Casino and he began engaging in a series of highly unusual activities.

He stayed at a hotel next to the casino but, aside from some gambling, his main activity seemed to have been to "wash money" through the gambling venue, as a New South Wales court later stated. 

First, he put A$299,650  in cash in a safe deposit box. The next day, he put in another A$703,000.

Along with some significant cash withdrawals, Koh's activities were enough to arouse suspicions, and casino staff contacted the police. 

Questioned in his hotel room on May 7, he claimed the A$703,000 was from an "aunt" who ran a brothel in Newcastle, north of Sydney. 

According to Koh's story, his aunt wanted the money sent to her former husband in China.

Koh pleaded guilty in a case which, the local court said, indicated he was involved in "organised crime conducted on a transnational basis". The case emerged in local media this week after the decision was published online.

"It is implicit in the plea that he knew the cash money was the proceeds of criminal activity," said Judge Graeme Henson.

The court heard that Koh claimed he went to Newcastle to pick up the money but his aunt was not there so he entered through an unlocked back door, found a suitcase in her bedroom and left. But the police found that the woman, Sun Jun Xiu, was not related to him and she denied being the source of the funds. The police also found the "uncle" in China did not exist. Koh was charged with two counts of money laundering and he pleaded guilty to both. 

In October, Judge Henson sentenced Koh to nine months' jail. The court noted he had assisted the police with information which led to the arrest and charging of two other people and the confiscation of A$1.59 million.

The duo were not identified but Koh's assistance - and his guilty plea - saw him given the minimum nine-month sentence.

"The offender asserts his life and that of his family will be in jeopardy if the assistance he has provided becomes known to those who controlled his part in the money laundering enterprise," said the judge. "That may or may not be so."

The court noted that "little is known about the offender".

Koh allowed the police to access the safety deposit box and they removed A$600,230 in cash, which was forfeited. The court said a receipt for the removal of A$200,000 on May 6 was found but more than A$200,000 "appears to be unaccounted for".

 "Given the defendant's conduct and intention to facilitate the laundering of a considerable amount of cash money - the product of criminal activity - within the community, it is difficult and certainly unwise to accept that he came to Australia with any legitimate business activity in mind," said Judge Henson.

The judge said the jail sentence aimed to deter people from entering Australia to "facilitate the washing of money through a casino and leave before the agencies of law enforcement are aware of their presence".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 21, 2016, with the headline 'S'porean jailed in Australiafor money laundering'. Print Edition | Subscribe