Paradise group fined $530,000 for gas fraud

The queue outside the Paradise Dynasty restaurant at Westgate mall in Jurong East, on Dec 21, 2013.
The queue outside the Paradise Dynasty restaurant at Westgate mall in Jurong East, on Dec 21, 2013.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Popular restaurant group Paradise was on Friday (June 24) fined $530,000 for using about $640,000 worth of gas without paying a cent for it, and tampering with gas meters at some of its outlets here.

In addition, the company will be paying gas provider City Gas for what it used.

District Judge Ng Peng Hong said he agreed with the prosecution on the need for a stiff sentence. He noted that Paradise's crimes were premeditated and prolonged, and had caused a substantial loss to City Gas.

The group had contested all of its 33 charges, but was found guilty of 29 of them three weeks ago, after a 30-day trial.

The Energy Market Authority, which regulates the gas industry, had asked for the maximum fine of $610,000 - $10,000 for each of 21 tampering charges it was convicted of, and $50,000 for each of eight dishonest consumption charges.

The statutory board's prosecuting counsel, Mr Amarjit Singh, had said that when someone steals utilities, it leads to consumers having to pay more. In addition, tampering with gas mains could interrupt supplies, or lead to gas leaks and even deaths.

Paradise's lawyer, Senior Counsel Engelin Teh, on Friday (June 24) asked for a fine in the range of $37,000 and $95,000 - between $1,000 and $3,000 for each of the tampering charges, and between $3,000 and $5,000 for each of the dishonest consumption charges.

In mitigation, Ms Teh said Paradise will be paying for the cost of gas that it had illegally used to City Gas.

The offences were committed between August 2011 and April 2012. City Gas detected an abnormally low gas consumption at Taste Paradise in Ion shopping mall on March 23, 2012, which led to the unravelling of the massive-scale fraud.

Seals meant to secure the bypass valve of gas meters at Paradise outlets were missing. In some instances, the position of the valve was moved from "closed" to "open", allowing gas to flow without registering on the meters.

Eight restaurants dishonestly used gas diverted past the meter, which was not reflected in the monthly bill issued by City Gas. The total loss suffered by the gas supplier was $636,438.12.

In January 2014, Paradise, known for both its fine-dining and casual Chinese eateries, was charged with tampering with the gas meters at 24 of its outlets.

The award-winning chain was founded by restaurateur Eldwin Chua, who went from running a zhi char stall in Defu Lane to operating restaurants under various brands, with footprints in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and London.