Widower jailed 33 months for laundering over $500k

Posed photo of a hand grabbing Singapore 50 dollar notes.
Posed photo of a hand grabbing Singapore 50 dollar notes. PHOTO: NP

He says he fell in love online with woman who duped him into it, but court not convinced

A widower who "fell in love" with a woman he met online ended up acting as a conduit for the transfer of more than half a million dollars to third parties here.

Mohammad Haikal Abdullah, 56, was found guilty of laundering stolen money and jailed for a total of 33 months last week.

Haikal's project development company Nory International received two deposits in November 2012 amounting to US$455,000 transferred from US-based MAI Wealth Advisors on the apparent e-mail instructions of its client, Ms Lisa Kerkorian.

But MAI later learnt that its client never issued such instructions and that her e-mail had been hacked by unknown fraudsters.

Haikal, the sole director and signatory of Nory's Singapore bank account, withdrew the sums in five tranches ranging from $180,000 to $31,000 within two weeks in the same month and handed over the cash to four people as instructed by one Lillian Alves.

Haikal's wife died of pneumonia in Feb 2012 and he later befriended Ms Alves online in search of a new partner.

His lawyer, Mr Chandra Mohan K Nair, argued in mitigation that Haikal was the victim of an online scam who believed Ms Alves cared for him and was keen to jointly invest in business projects with Nory.

Haikal, the sole director and signatory of Nory's Singapore bank account, withdrew the sums in five tranches ranging from $180,000 to $31,000 within two weeks in the same month and handed over the cash to four people as instructed by one Lillian Alves.

He was instead conned by Ms Alves who sought to use his account to transfer money to buy gems for her clients.

The lawyer referred to a 2014 British media report in which a similarly named Lillian Alves courted a lonely 61-year-old seeking "undying love", but tried to use him as a "money mule" and sought his bank account details. The British prosecutor later dropped the charge against the man, concluding he had been duped.

Mr Chandra Mohan urged the court to consider Haikal's emotional and mental state, given that he lost his wife suddenly.

Pointing out that Haikal did not benefit from the scam and was looking after his two sons here, he suggested the former national dragon boat racing team member be placed on probation or fined instead.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Nicholas Khoo and Tow Chew Chi called for a deterrent sentence, pointing out it was in the public interest that money laundering and its related offences are dealt with firmly and "with the greatest disapprobation".

They said, among other things, there were also aggravating factors given the large sum involved, and that Haikal's claim of being "in love" with Ms Alves affected his decision making was "utterly without merit", based on the evidence.

"The accused is no babe in the woods himself; rather he is an experienced businessman who once served as the CEO of the third largest construction company in Saudi Arabia. He is far from simplistic and naive," the prosecution added.

District Judge Imran Hamid, who sentenced Haikal, ordered jail terms for two of the seven charges - one of 30 months for receiving stolen property and one of three months for transferring the proceeds - to run consecutively.

Haikal is appealing against the conviction and currently on bail.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Widower jailed 33 months for laundering over $500k'. Print Edition | Subscribe