Chinese national jailed 14 months for using sleight-of-hand to steal money from shops

SINGAPORE - A Chinese national was jailed 14 months on Thursday for using sleight-of-hand technique - commonly used by magicians to handle coins and cards - to steal money.

Zhou Wei, 44, pilfered more than $3,300 from over five retail stores. He used the same modus operandi on his stealing spree that stretched from April 13 to April 20.

He would first pretend that he was a customer keen on buying items. Upon handing the staff member a $100 note to pay for the items, he would ask for a newer note as part of the change money.

He would then insist on going through the cashier's stack of notes himself, pocketing money in the process.

Zhou was charged on 10 counts of theft with three of the charges proceeded with.

On April 16 at around 11am, Zhou visited a shop at Bugis Junction and pretended to buy a necklace. He handed the cashier a $100 note.

The cashier returned him $84.10 cash, mostly in $10 notes.

Zhou requested for a new $50 note to be handed to him as a part of the change, claiming that he wanted to give the note to his son for his birthday.

The cashier went to the safe to get more dollar notes. Zhou then took the stack of money and looked through it himself.

In the process, he pilfered a total of $1,050. The cashier did not notice anything amiss until a colleague realised there was money missing from the safe at 6pm.

In mitigation, Zhou said he had lost more than $10,000 on his first day in Singapore at the casino. Desperate to recover his losses, he resorted to stealing, he said. Zhou added that he was willing to make restitution for the money he had stolen.

In passing sentence, District Judge Luke Tan said: "Regardless of the reason why the offences were committed, the fact remains that these offences involved obvious planning and plotting."

For each count of theft, Zhou could have been jailed up to seven years and fined.

miranday@sph.com.sg