Dutch woman cheated of $524,000 by local couple gets justice

Ms Everarda (far left) gave money to Thomas Subramaniam and his wife Hameedah Bee Abdul Jaffar (both left) for help in marketing her yoga book and for property investment.
Ms Everarda (above) gave money to Thomas Subramaniam and his wife Hameedah Bee Abdul Jaffar for help in marketing her yoga book and for property investment.PHOTOS: NILA PALACIOS, ELISABETH EVERARDA VAN DER LAAN
Ms Everarda (far left) gave money to Thomas Subramaniam and his wife Hameedah Bee Abdul Jaffar (both left) for help in marketing her yoga book and for property investment.
Ms Everarda gave money to Thomas Subramaniam and his wife Hameedah Bee Abdul Jaffar (both above) for help in marketing her yoga book and for property investment.PHOTOS: NILA PALACIOS, ELISABETH EVERARDA VAN DER LAAN

Court finds perpetrators guilty, seven years after she was cheated out of some $524,000

In 2008, a couple convinced Ms Elisabeth Everarda Van Der Laan to place some $524,000 in their company for real estate investment and to market her latest yoga book.

After her money was used up in nine months, Ms Everarda felt outraged. She filed a police report against them, which became the subject of a criminal case, and took them to court in hopes of getting her money back, a civil case.

Seven years on, the criminal case which she had relentlessly pursued and monitored came to a close in a district court on Friday when the principal culprit, Thomas Subramaniam, 61, was jailed for 33 months.

Sentencing of his wife, Hameedah Bee Abdul Jaffar, 48, has been postponed to next month as she was reported to be warded in hospital.

District Judge Toh Yung Cheong had earlier this month found the couple guilty of conspiring to cheat Ms Everarda, 70, and dishonestly inducing her to deliver $524,768 to their company, Billionaires Management Worldwide (BMW).

DOGGED PURSUIT

When it dawned upon me that half a million dollars were lost by intent to cheat, of course I felt outraged. Yet out of that came a stage of total alertness and not giving in to a lack of courage to demand accountability and to do what is right to do in a civilised jurisdiction, when it is not the easiest thing to do.

MS ELISABETH EVERARDA VAN DER LAAN

Deputy public prosecutors Kwek Chin Yong and Norman Yew had charged that the couple deceived Ms Everarda by lying that BMW would provide a business strategy to market her latest book and coach her in it, as well as help invest $500,000 of her retirement savings in real estate in Indonesia.

Investigations later showed that the purported plans were a ruse to scam her of the funds and to spend the money on themselves.

The couple denied the scam and claimed Ms Everarda agreed to invest in their Admall project, an online marketing portal which they alleged had failed largely because she did not cooperate with them to see the plans through.

But prosecutors pointed out that there was no evidence she was informed of Admall and that the claim was "tellingly" made belatedly, midway through a criminal trial.

Thomas and his wife managed a group of firms which provide consultancy services to small and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore.

They met Ms Everarda at an event by a group known as XL Results Foundation, and learnt that she was keen to market her yoga book. The couple were members of XL and organised events for other members.

They became better acquainted and reached an agreement to circulate her book worldwide and devise a project investment plan.

Ms Everarda, a Dutch national with permanent residence in Hong Kong, issued three cheques for $524,768 to the couple, who banked the monies in 2008.

Disputes and defaults followed, and she sued them for the return of the monies.

In 2010, Justice Quentin Loh ruled the civil suit in favour of Ms Everarda, who represented herself.

Justice Loh criticised the couple for their "profligate behaviour" and noted that they had, among other things, used $24,390 of their client's funds to pay for five nights in "the world's only seven-star and notoriously expensive Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai".

He found the couple had looked into the Dutch woman's means and "cold-bloodedly persuaded her to part with her money".

He also found their claim that the 36-month project had collapsed because Ms Everarda had pulled out prematurely to be "a gross exaggeration and quite false".

Ms Everarda said that although she won the civil suit, "not a penny has been salvaged" from the couple.

" The criminal case is not about legal return-of-money orders but about punishment," she added.

Thomas, in his mitigation plea on Friday, sought leniency.

He insisted Ms Everarda lost her monies because of "business failure", and said he had a clean past record, among other things.

District Judge Toh noted the lack of remorse from Thomas and said his jail term should be 42 months, based on past precedent.

But the judge discounted nine months for the time Thomas had already served in remand and sentenced him to 33 months.

When asked for her reaction to the verdict, Ms Everarda told The Sunday Times in an e-mail response: "The outcome could not have been better.

"If you think you can live in grandeur on other people's money, well, that's what you get."

She cited a Dutch saying that meant "the Truth will always pass the lie" and noted that it is "a cosmic law". She added that she could finally empty out piles of documents about the case.

"It has been a seven-year-long journey. Time for a closure and to live and plan my life, not being disturbed anymore with this case and its court session," she said. "Something to celebrate!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 20, 2015, with the headline 'Dutch woman duped by couple gets justice'. Print Edition | Subscribe