Man jailed 20 months for role in 'money mule' scam

On the orders of two people he never met, he took $250k in loot and helped launder it

A former social club manager allowed US$200,000 to be wired from a Swiss bank account to his Singapore account, and later withdrew the money and gave it to a third party on the instructions of a woman he was attracted to online.

S. Kabaleeswaran, 65, was jailed 20 months for his role as a "money mule" in accepting the equivalent of S$246,960 in stolen money and transferring $235,000 to a Rosidah Said in 2013.

District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, in judgment grounds released yesterday, found that Kabaleeswaran was no "babe in the woods" and rejected his claim of being duped by the woman online, named Lilian, whom he asked many times to meet in person but never did.

The judge said: "He is not as simplistic and naive as counsel would like the court to believe. No doubt he was hoping that he could forge a long-term love relationship with Lilian, but it was clear from his evidence and statements that he was, at all times, mature and sensible enough to be realistic about the outcome of such online dalliances."

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gregory Gan said Kabaleeswaran was laundering fraudulently obtained funds on the orders of two unknown individuals known only as "Lilian" and "Fayez", both of whom he never met.

The court heard that fraudsters had impersonated a client of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi Private Bank (Suisse) in Geneva , Switzerland and instructed its account officer to transfer US$200,000 in October 2013 to the accused's POSB account in Singapore. Investigations into the fraud followed in Switzerland and Singapore but the transferred sums were never recovered.

Kabaleeswaran was approached by Fayez in June 2013 by phone and told that the latter was buying a house in Singapore and was sending a female friend to Singapore to make payment. Fayez claimed to have met him before, when he worked in the travel business.

Kabaleeswaran was told to give the money to a woman. He withdrew the money and, as instructed, gave it to a woman later identified as Rosidah. He did this twice.

Kabaleeswaran was told to deal with Lilian after the initial contact with Fayez.

Kabaleeswaran, defended by lawyer Suresh Damodara said he did not have reasonable grounds to believe the money was stolen.

The court was not convinced, noting he had benefited financially as there was a balance of $11,690 after the transfers. He admitted that he used the money for his expenses and taking his children to Bangkok.

"Therefore, it was far from a case of someone blindly and unconditionally assisting someone whom he had fallen in love with," said the judge.

"It may well be argued that as much as Lilian was baiting him, he was also baiting her by agreeing to assist her in order to get her to meet him in person."

Kabaleeswaran, who was remanded last year, had his jail term backdated and has completed serving his sentence. He is appealing against his conviction and sentence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2016, with the headline 'Man jailed 20 months for role in 'money mule' scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe