2 cheats jailed over $440k 'evil spirits' scams

Chinese nationals Li Lianying (left) and Li Peng were part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable. The other three members remain at large.
Chinese nationals Li Lianying (left) and Li Peng were part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable. The other three members remain at large.
Chinese nationals Li Lianying (left) and Li Peng were part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable. The other three members remain at large.
Chinese nationals Li Lianying (left) and Li Peng were part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable. The other three members remain at large.

TWO Chinese nationals who conned a pair of elderly women out of their life savings with tales of evil spirits and hospitalised children were jailed yesterday for a total of more than eight years.

Li Lianying, 50, and Li Peng, 45, had been part of a five-member group who came to Singapore specifically to prey on the old and vulnerable, a court heard. They cheated part-time cleaners Goh Kah Keow, 72, and Chua Peck Har, 66, out of around $440,000.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Vadi PVSS said the gang spotted Madam Goh alone at a bus stop near Roxy Square in East Coast Road on Nov 20 last year.

While Li Peng and a male accomplice stood at a distance, Li Lianying approached Madam Goh in tears. She claimed her daughter was in a Taiwan hospital with an incurable disease and asked if the victim knew a particular medium nearby who could help her.

The accomplice Li Cai Hong, 45, then joined them and claimed to know the medium and offered to take them to him.

A third woman, Li Lian Ying, 40, approached them. One of the tricksters identified her as the medium's granddaughter, and they pleaded with her to help Li Lianying. She told them to wait while she sought advice from her grandfather. When she returned, she said that Madam Goh was possessed by evil spirits trying to harm her, and that a "high priest" was needed to get rid of them.

Madam Goh asked Li Lian Ying if the medium could help, and was told all her savings and jewellery had to be blessed. Madam Goh, a devout Buddhist, agreed.

She went home with Li Cai Hong and returned with her jewellery and money, totalling just over $400,000, which she put in a green bag given to her by the gang. During a short prayer, while she had her eyes closed, the bag was switched with another.

Madam Goh was told to return to the bus stop three days later, and warned not to open the bag in the meantime or the prayers would be rendered void.

No one was at the bus stop when she returned. A week later, she opened the bag, which contained only water bottles and old newspapers.

The tricksters had earlier conned another victim, Madam Chua, out of cash and jewellery totalling $37,550 in a similar scam at People's Park Complex.

The two accused were caught at Changi Airport in March when they returned to Singapore with the other three gang members, who escaped by catching a flight back to China via Hong Kong. Li Cai Hong, Li Lian Ying and Li Tu Wang, 43, remain at large.

DPP Vadi said the two accused had left their two victims "forever scarred" and "penniless".

Li Lianying was jailed for four years and 10 months after pleading guilty to two counts of conspiracy to cheat. Seafood business operator Li Peng admitted to one charge, with a second considered during sentencing. He was jailed for three years and five months.

When Li Lianying said she did it in a moment of folly, District Judge Soh Tze Bian told her: "It cannot be a moment of folly... you all came here with the clear intention to commit these offences. "

elena@sph.com.sg