Manager pleads guilty to siphoning $11m from firm

Up to 20 years' jail sought, but defence says former Chopard worker has mental disorder

The prosecution is seeking 18 to 20 years' jail for the former accounting manager of Chopard who siphoned $11.2 million from the luxury goods company, misappropriating most of it using erasable ink.

But the defence is arguing that 53-year-old Chew Siew Lang is herself a victim of a mental disorder which turns her into a pathological gambler, claiming she spent nearly all the money on huge 4D bets.

Chew yesterday pleaded guilty in the High Court to 56 charges - six of criminal breach of trust, 30 of falsification of accounts and 20 of using the benefits of her criminal conduct. Another 187 similar charges will be taken into account during sentencing.

She siphoned the money between January 2006 and August 2012. She misappropriated most of it using erasable ink on cheques made out to Chopard's suppliers for bogus transactions.

After getting the required two signatures, Chew, who was authorised to sign cheques, replaced the payees' names with her own.

Calling for a deterrent sentence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kwek Chin Yong highlighted the case of ex-Singapore Airlines cabin crew supervisor Teo Chin Kiat, who was jailed 24 years in 2000 for siphoning $35 million over 13 years. More than $20 million was returned to SIA, so the loss was similar to Chew's case. Chopard has managed to recover only $197,000 from her.

According to the charges, Chew spent $2.1 million of her ill-gotten gains on 4D bets. Between February 2009 and August 2012, she wrote 76 cheques of between $20,000 and $68,000 to a Singapore Pools retailer to gamble the money.

Her lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, contended that she "almost exclusively" spent the money on "very large, very bizarre 4D bets of very high value". He submitted a psychiatric report stating that Chew was "suffering from an impulse control disorder manifesting as pathological gambling".

He noted that she did not "embark on a luxurious lifestyle" but lived in a five-room flat. The luxury items she bought paled in comparison to the amount embezzled.

This led Justice Woo Bih Li to question how someone could spend $11 million on 4D in 61/2 years. The judge wondered if there was a causal link between Chew's impulse disorder and her offences.

The case was adjourned for Mr Chia to seek further evidence on this issue.

Chew joined Chopard as an accounts executive in 1997 and was later promoted to manager.

Chopard did not know she had a hand in the till - what she siphoned was less than 6 per cent of its yearly revenue.

The Geneva-based firm found out only when the Commercial Affairs Department started investigating her based on a tip-off.

The company sacked her in August 2012 and two months later, filed a civil suit against her.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline 'Manager pleads guilty to siphoning $11m from firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe