SINGAPORE - A husband and wife who conspired to cheat several unsuspecting victims out of more than $800,000 were given stiff jail terms on Monday (July 24).
Ong Choon Lin, 67, and his wife Ng Kim Yew, 62, a Malaysian who is a Singapore permanent resident, tricked nine people into believing that a spiritual master from Thailand or Tibet would write a talisman for them, and paying them enormous sums for the talismans.
On Monday, Ong was sentenced to a jail term of four years and seven months while his wife was given five years and nine months.
They were convicted last week after a 23-day trial. They faced 20 charges of abetment by conspiracy to cheat three victims of almost $500,000.
The victims were duped over a period of at least 10 years, starting from 2005. The total amount involved in Ng's case was $816,868, and in Ong's case, $734,068.
The couple's ruse involved recommending different types of talismans to the victims, and convincing them that the talismans could help them tide over their difficulties or bring them and their loved ones good luck and fortune.
Ng would tell the victims that every stroke and every word on the talismans was written and chanted over by a Thai grandmaster or Tibetan spiritual master.
It was, in fact, Ong who created the talismans.
The victims paid anything from a few hundred dollars to nearly $39,000 for each talisman.
The talismans came in several forms such as an "international" talisman, a "business" talisman, and a "wealth" talisman, among others.
In their defence, the couple at first denied that Ong wrote the talismans. However, they later said Ong was the one who wrote some of the words on the talismans. Ong said he was helping his wife as she was illiterate.
Ng, on her part, denied selling the talismans, saying she gave them away for free. The money that she received from the victims were for her spiritual and praying services, beauty products and jewellery, she said.
District Judge Lee Poh Choo, in sentencing them on Monday, said that for more than 10 years, the couple schemed to hoodwink Ng's followers.
When the victims ran out of money to pay for the talismans, Ng arranged for them to borrow money or pawn their belongings to pay her. She did not care that she was causing them financial strain, and exploiting their trust in her.
Prosecutors Tay Jingxi and Charis Low submitted evidence to show that Ng frequented casinos, where she lost more than whatever she was able to bring in.
The judge said the money Ng obtained from the victims was likely not spent on necessities.
She added that another aggravating factor was that despite being cautioned a number of times, Ng continued to paint her female victims in a bad light.
The couple's sentences were backdated to March 1 last year.
The maximum penalty for each charge is 10 years' jail and a fine.