Duo tried to cheat firm with forged cheques

Good friends planned to steal $3.6m from company

After forging three cheques worth $3.6 million that belonged to his employer, an accounts assistant planned to flee to Thailand for the "good life".

A district court heard yesterday that Tan Yong Hai had persuaded his former schoolmate and good friend, Lau Tien Chen, 31, to let him use his bank account to receive the money.

Tan, also 31, was employed by Soilbuild Group Holdings in 2013 when he planned to "loot" money from its bank accounts and escape to Thailand.

But the duo were caught on Aug 23 that year.

Tan's crime spree began two years earlier, when he forged nine lease agreements and cheated a company of $428,000. He also forged five cheques with amounts ranging from $30,000 to $280,000.

He later flew to Thailand with close to a million dollars in cash, stuffing his ill-gotten gains between the pages of hard cover books packed into his luggage to avoid detection.

Then a facility executive with Sodexo Singapore from 2010, Tan was assigned to Invensys Process Systems to carry out estate management and maintenance of the latter's facilities and buildings.

In 2011, he dishonestly induced Invensys to pay rent to non-existent landlords of fictitious apartment units, with the money going into the bank accounts of his friends and relatives who did not know they were named as landlords in the forged lease agreements.

In January 2012, when he found out that Invensys was investigating him, he decided to forge cheques before fleeing. The court heard he subsequently withdrew $950,000 from the bank accounts into which he had deposited the forged cheques, and that he took off for Thailand on Feb 28 that year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Victor Lim said that while in Thailand, Tan asked Lau to help him apply for a job as an accounts assistant here. Lau arranged interviews for Tan, who returned in August 2013 using a Thai passport. He lied that he had never used a passport under a different name to enter Singapore.

Shortly after securing the job at Soilbuild, Tan forged a Maybank cheque for $1.99 million made out to Lau. He also forged two United Overseas Bank cheques for $745,000 and $850,000.

On Aug 22 that year, Lau retrieved the $1.99 million Maybank cheque and two UOB cheques from Tan's house and banked them at StanChart's main office in Battery Road. The duo had planned to withdraw the entire $3.6 million once the forged cheques were cleared the next day and the funds credited into Lau's account. But Maybank suspected the cheque to be forged and informed Soilbuild's chief financial officer. As a result, the Maybank cheque was not cleared.

When Tan realised the company suspected its cheques were forged, he left immediately and arranged to meet Lau at the Woodlands branch of StanChart on Aug 23. But Lau managed to withdraw only $202,000 out of the $1.6 million deposited into his bank account. He handed the money to Tan outside the bank branch. None of $202,000 has been recovered.

Lau was arrested in Battery Road when he turned up to withdraw the balance of $1.4 million. Tan was arrested at Changi Airport the same day.

Yesterday, Tan pleaded guilty to eight of 21 charges while Lau admitted to two of three charges of dishonestly using forged cheques as genuine.

Lawyers Sunil Sudheesan and Diana Ngiam will mitigate for the pair on June 17.

elena@sph.com.sg