Prosecution seeks 18 to 20 years' jail for woman who siphoned $11.2 million from Chopard

Chew Siew Lang, 53, pleaded guilty in the High Court on Tuesday to 56 charges.
Chew Siew Lang, 53, pleaded guilty in the High Court on Tuesday to 56 charges.PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

SINGAPORE - The prosecution is seeking 18 to 20 years' jail for the former accounting manager of luxury goods company Chopard, who siphoned $11.2 million from her employer over a period of 61/2 years.

Chew Siew Lang, 53, pleaded guilty in the High Court on Tuesday to 56 charges - six counts of criminal breach of trust, 30 counts of falsification of accounts and 20 counts of using the benefits of her criminal conduct.

Another 187 similar charges will be taken into account during sentencing. The offences took place between January 2006 and August 2012.

Chew misappropriated most of the money using erasable ink to write on cheques made out to Chopard's suppliers for bogus transactions.

After getting the required two signatures - Chew herself was authorised to sign Chopard's cheques - she replaced the payee's names with her own.

Prosecutors say that Chew spent at least $2.1 million of her ill-gotten gains on 4D lottery bets. Deputy Public Prosecutor Kwek Chin Yong relied on 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, to support his argument for why Chew should be jailed for 18 to 20 years.

But her lawyer contended that the millions embezzled were "almost exclusively" spent on "4D bets of very high value".

The lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, submitted a psychiatric report that Chew was "suffering from an impulse control disorder manifesting as pathological gambling". Mr Chia noted that Chew continued to live in a five-room flat and while she spent on luxury items, these paled in comparison to the amount she spent on 4D.

Justice Woo Bih Li questioned how someone could spend $11 million largely on 4D in 61/2 years. The judge wondered if it can be further explored if there was a causal link between Chew's impulse disorder and her offences.

Chopard, a Geneva-based company known for its watches and jewellery, did not know that Chew had her hand in the till - the amount that she misappropriated was less than 6 per cent of its yearly revenue.

The company only found out 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. It has only managed to recover $197,000.

selinal@sph.com.sg