Debtor ran China operation for loan shark

Unable to pay his own debts, he took up offer to set up shop there

A DEBTOR who owed a loan shark around $20,000 ended up working for him as a runner and even set up an illegal moneylending business for him in China, a court heard yesterday.

Ken Lee Jung Huat, 39, flew to Hong Kong to meet "Ah Heng" and, over three weeks, he was taught how to operate such a business before setting up his own operation in 2011.

Lee would call debtors to remind them when repayment was due, offer loans to potential customers, update a customer database and direct runners to collect repayment of loans and deposit money.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to 20 of 60 charges under the Moneylenders Act. His lawyer will submit a plea in mitigation on April 17.

Investigations showed that after running up gambling debts in early 2008, Lee borrowed $3,000 from Ah Heng - also known as Ah Hui - but was unable to make the repayments. Further loans were subsequently issued and the outstanding amount owed ballooned to about $20,000.

In February 2009, Ah Heng offered him a job as a runner for the syndicate, with a salary of $1,000 a month.

Several months later, Ah Heng asked him to operate an unlicensed moneylending stall from China. Lee was offered $1,500 a month as well as 30 per cent of profits earned.

He took up the offer and left for Hong Kong, where Ah Heng showed him the ropes.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee said that after a few months, Lee moved from Hong Kong to Zhuhai, China, where he rented an apartment.

Lee ran his illegal moneylending business from then until his arrest in Singapore on Feb 4 last year. By that time, he was earning a salary of $3,500 plus a 30 per cent share of profits.

Mr 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.

When he was arrested, police seized his laptop, two mobile phones, and cash of $4,000, 1,435 yuan (S$313) and HK$2,000 (S$350), among other items, at his Chai Chee home.

Ah Heng's identity has yet to be established.

Lee could be fined between $30,000 and $300,000 and sentenced to up to six strokes of the cane on each charge.

elena@sph.com.sg.com