Paradise restaurant chain fined $530k for gas 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.
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.ST FILE PHOTO
The Paradise group was founded by Mr Eldwin Chua, who started off running a zi char stall in Defu Lane.
The Paradise group was founded by Mr Eldwin Chua, who started off running a zi char stall in Defu Lane.

Crimes were planned and caused huge loss to City Gas, says judge

Chinese restaurant chain Paradise was fined $530,000 yesterday for using around $640,000 of gas without paying for it and tampering with gas meters at some of its outlets.

The company was convicted on June 2 on 29 of 33 charges in a district court.

Yesterday, District Judge Ng Peng Hong agreed with the prosecution on the need for a stiff sentence.

He noted that Paradise's crimes were "premeditated" and had caused a "substantial loss" to gas provider City Gas.

The group had contested all the charges during 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 and $50,000 for each of eight dishonest consumption charges.

In January 2014, Paradise... was charged with tampering with the gas meters at 24 of its outlets. Of the 24, 13 were from Paradise Inn eateries, four came under Kung Fu Paradise, two were from Seafood Paradise outlets, and one each was from Paradise Group Holdings, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Pavilion, Taste Paradise and Canton Paradise.

The statutory board's prosecuting counsel, Mr Amarjit Singh, pointed out that stealing utilities leads to consumers having to pay more, while tampering with gas mains can interrupt supplies or lead to gas leaks and even deaths.

Senior Counsel Engelin Teh 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 back the cost of gas that it used illegally to City Gas.

Paradise's 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 large-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 bills issued by City Gas.

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.

Of the 24, 13 were from Paradise Inn eateries, four came under Kung Fu Paradise, two were from Seafood Paradise outlets, and one each was from Paradise Group Holdings, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Pavilion, Taste Paradise and Canton Paradise.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Paradise restaurant chain fined $530k for gas fraud'. Print Edition | Subscribe