SINGAPORE - An unlicensed moneylender who was part of a transnational syndicate and operated from China was sentenced to four years' jail and fined $600,000 on Friday.
Ken Lee Jung Huat, 39, had admitted to 20 of 60 charges for carrying on the business of unlicensed moneylending and helping to operate the illegal trade.
In 2008, he was heavily in debt and borrowed $3,000 from a loanshark known as Ah Heng. When he failed to repay the loan, which eventually ballooned to about $20,000, Ah Heng offered him a job in 2009 to work as a runner for the syndicate on a monthly salary of $1,000.
Several months later, Ah Heng gave him an opportunity to operate an unlicensed moneylending stall from China with a $1,500 pay as well as 30 per cent of profits earned.
He flew to Hongkong and met Ah Heng who taught him how to run the business.
After a few months, Lee moved from Hongkong to Zhuhai, China, where he rented an apartment.
He was arrested in Singapore on Feb 4 last year.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee said that over the years, Lee would either rely on Ah Heng to provide runners or hire his own to collect loan repayments in Singapore.
Between mid-2010 and late January last year, Lee helped Ah Heng to maintain his business by using his ATM card to perform electronic fund transfers on the loan shark's behalf.
In his submissions on sentence, Mr Kee had highlighted the substantial period of time that Lee had operated his very own stall from Zhuhai. He said a strong deterrent message was necessary for unlicensed moneylending offences, given Singapore's zero tolerance policy for such activities and its harmful effects on society.
Such offences, he said, are not just harder to detect but often more serious.
"The transnational and syndicated nature of such groups makes it extremely difficult, if not close to impossible, to apprehend the leaders of syndicates like the accused," he said.
District Judge Siva Shanmugam said the offences involved meticulous planning and premeditation and noted that Lee was part of a transnational syndicate.
He said his active participation was crucial and significant for the unlicensed moneylending scheme to succeed.
Lee could not pay the fine and will serve a default sentence of 80 weeks in jail.