Ex-pharma firm exec gets jail for illegal codeine sale

Ashley Jas Ang Wei Hoon committed 203 counts of supplying over 20,000 litres of codeine- based cough syrup and codeine tablets to a Malaysian man, and 192 offences of forgery.
Ashley Jas Ang Wei Hoon committed 203 counts of supplying over 20,000 litres of codeine-based cough syrup and codeine tablets to a Malaysian man, and 192 offences of forgery.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

A judge who jailed a former pharmaceutical company sales manager for 21 months for forgery and offences under the Medicines Act said this could well be the worst case of unauthorised sale of codeine.

Ashley Jas Ang Wei Hoon, 38, worked for Beacons Pharmaceuticals when she committed 203 counts of supplying more than 20,000 litres of codeine-based cough syrup and codeine tablets to a Malaysian man, and 192 offences of forgery. She had admitted to 60 charges in all.

In a year from May 25, 2009, she supplied one Wong Kin Yu with a total of 984 x 3.8L canisters containing codeine and 4,000 codeine tablets which she knew were medicinal products not on the General Sales List. The estimated 20,307.2 litres of cough syrup she dealt with is the highest amount involved in such an offence.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Stacey Anne Fernandez said Ang wanted to hit her sales targets and create a "good portfolio" for herself in the hope of getting a job in another multinational company.

In May 2009, Soh Woon Mei, an assistant at Kim Tian Clinic, asked Ang if she could help order and deliver bottles of cough syrup to Wong, also known as Paul, who had visited the clinic.

Ang at first declined but later accepted the offer when she realised she could not meet her team's sales target. The court heard that she did not query Wong on why he needed medicinal products but believed he wanted to sell them on the black market.

She knew he had faked details in the invoices with the intent to commit fraud. She used the invoices to deceive Beacons into believing that the order had been made by Kim Tian Clinic.

After Ang's arrest in June 2011, numerous cases of forgery on invoices were uncovered. She had deceived the company into believing the orders had been made by various general practitioner clinics.

In passing sentence, District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt said the large number of charges and sheer quantities of medicinal products sold showed the extent of Ang's overall culpability and would constitute a significant sentencing factor for consideration.

"This may well be the worst case involving the unauthorised sale of codeine but the prosecution is far from seeking the highest possible sentence,'' he said.

He accepted that Ang was not the mastermind, but still certainly no "pawn'', as characterised by her counsel, Mr Tan Cheow Hung.

"I would consider her to be a co-conspirator or, at the very least, she played the role of the seller in a 'buyer-seller' relationship in the illegal transactions," he added.

He said Ang committed the offences out of self-interest, even if she had not made any financial gain from the illegal transactions.

Ang could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined for forgery.

Elena Chong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2015, with the headline 'Ex-pharma firm exec gets jail for illegal codeine sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe