Former accountant allegedly pocketed $40m: 6 other cases here involving millions

SINGAPORE - An accountant specialising in insolvency cases has been accused of pocketing more than $40 million from 21 companies he was tasked with liquidating, and another firm whose finances he was supposed to manage.

A court heard on Jan 14 that he used most of the money to gamble and pay off his creditors. Ewe Pang Kooi, 61, managing partner of certified public accounting firm Ewe, Loke & Partners, allegedly misappropriated $40,622,169 and US$147,000 (S$196,300) in all.

The licensed liquidator was hit with 693 charges for offences he allegedly committed between February 2002 and July 2012, including multiple counts of criminal breach of trust, forgery and cheating. Here are six other cases that involved millions of dollars.

1. Former accounting manager of luxury watch firm accused of pocketing $11m

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A court heard on Nov 25, 2014 that Chew Siew Lang, 52, misappropriated about $11 million over a 6 1/2-year period. The former accounting manager of the Asian unit of Swiss-based Chopard is accused of using more than $2 million of the pocketed money for personal expenses, gambling most of it away. Only $197,281.63 has been recovered.

The court was told that Chew caused losses amounting to $11,210,006.26 to the watch company between Jan 17, 2006 and Aug 21, 2012. She also allegedly falsified the firm's accounts to include expenses that had not been incurred by making a raft of bogus entries. These ranged from "compensation" and "decoration materials", to "realised currency-exchange losses" and "advance paid to suppliers". Her next mention in court will be on Jan 20.

2. City Harvest Church leaders accused of cheating church of $50m

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City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies have been accused of criminal breach of trust for allegedly funnelling $24 million for the church's new building into sham bond investments in church-linked companies Xtron Productions and Firna. Prosecutors say the church's accounts were then falsified through transactions amounting to another $26.6 million so the bonds appeared "redeemed". All this was allegedly to fund the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun. They were charged in 2012, and the trial is ongoing.

3. Former warehouse manager of steel company pocketed almost $12 million by selling company's products

On Aug 21, 2012, Low Kok Leong, then 50, was jailed 12 1/2 years for cleaning out close to $12 million worth of his company's products over three years. He sold its high-end steel products to scrap metal companies when he was an employee of ArcelorMittal Singapore, a multi-national steel and mining company. Low had been a warehouse manager for about 10 years and was in charge of the company's stocks at Yang Kee Logistics's warehouse in Tuas. In 2009, between May 25 and Dec 29, he sold about $170,500 worth of products. In 2010, between Jan 8 and Aug 25, he sold about $11.5 million worth of goods. Low's lawyer, Mr A Thamilselvan, said his client committed the offences to feed his gambling habit. Low started out with 4D and Toto and later, jackpot. Eventually, he gambled more often and with higher stakes when the casinos opened here.

4. Rogue lawyer David Rasif absconded with $11.3m of his clients' money

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The rogue lawyer ran off with $11.3 million of his clients' money in 2006. He is currently a wanted man in Singapore, and is also on Interpol's wanted list. In 2010, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) here was able to recover $6.4 million in cash and gold both here and abroad. Cops had reportedly been able to track down the transfers of large sums of money from accounts operated by Rasif, who will be 56 years old in 2015. A lawyer said the bank accounts were in Hong Kong. CAD had also been able to seize 40 of the 47 gold bars that Rasif had bought for $1.65 million in June 2006. The biggest claimant against Rasif is an American couple, Mr George Raymond Zage III and his wife Kaori Kathleen. The couple entrusted $11 million to Rasif's firm for the purchase of a property and lost all of it.

5. Cortina watch supervisor swiped almost 400 watches, cufflinks and cash worth more than $8 million

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When he was a supervisor at the Raffles City branch of luxury watch shop Cortina, Jerry Ee stole items and cash that totalled more than $8 million. He had apparently started stealing in 2006, but his biggest loot was on Christmas Day in 2008. He disarmed the store's security system and took $27,137 cash and 386 watches worth $8.5 million, and left in 20 minutes. After packing the watches into two suitcases, a rented limousine drove him to his flat in Jalan Rumah Tinggi and later, across the Causeway to Johor Baru. There, Ee met a friend, Chang Jin, and the two men hired a cab to take them to Hatyai, Thailand. He surrendered in Bangkok in March 2009, after being on the run for 80 days. He was sentenced to nine years' jail here.

6. SIA cabin crew supervisor Teo Cheng Kiat siphoned $35 million from the company

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For a period of 13 years, between Feb 9, 1987 and Jan 18, 2000, Teo misappropriated a staggering $34.96 million from Singapore Airlines.

Teo had joined SIA as a clerk in 1975. He was promoted to supervisor of the cabin crew division in 1988. As supervisor, he oversaw the processing of cabin crew allowances. He used the names of crew members who did not fly on various flights to make false claims and channelled the payments to his own bank accounts. He was found out accidentally through an ad-hoc internal audit.

On June 30, 2000, he was convicted on 10 counts of CBT in the High Court. He was sentenced to 24 years in jail.

Source: The Straits Times

jalmsab@sph.com.sg