Clinic worker jailed for stealing medicine to help estranged hubby

Under pressure from her estranged husband for money, a clinic employee stole almost 500 litres of codeine-based cough syrup for him to resell illegally.

Chen Ruzhen handed over a total of 482.6 litres of Dhasedyl syrup to Yam Bin Kwee on 12 occasions in 2011 and 2012, receiving between $400 and $600 in return each time.

The 40-year-old was jailed for 16 weeks yesterday for dishonestly misappropriating the syrup, worth $4,593.93, and selling it to Yam to "help him in his business".

She pleaded guilty to eight proceeded charges in all, comprising four counts each under the Penal Code and Medicines Act respectively.

As an administrator at Radlink Medicare in Tampines Central 6, Chen was in charge of ordering medicine from suppliers, and maintaining records of inventory movements between the clinic and a subsidiary.

Each time after handing over the syrup, she would manipulate the accounts to leave out the amount that had been pilfered. She was sacked after her wrongdoing came to light in December 2012.

Health Sciences Authority prosecutor Amal Nasibah Salim said that the case, involving the theft of codeine-based syrup by a clinic employee, was the fourth of its kind since 2010. She said that if sold on the black market, each 3.8-litre canister of the syrup could fetch $1,100.

Passing sentence, District Judge Toh Yung Cheong said it was reasonable to infer some of the syrup could have ended up in the hands of drug or substance abusers, given the amount involved.

Chen's actions gave rise to health and safety issues, as well as the risk of the medicine being adulterated, the judge said.

Defence counsel Tan Hee Joek said his client had earlier made restitution of $602.41, but was subsequently unable to return the balance as it would affect her former employer's accounts.

Yam, from whom she has been separated since 2004, regularly borrowed money from her and had harassed her into taking the syrup for him, the lawyer said.

For each count of criminal breach of trust, Chen could have been jailed for up to seven years and fined. The maximum penalty she faced for each Medicines Act offence was two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Yam is still at large.

pohian@sph.com.sg