Firm's account used to receive stolen money: Boss gets 17 months

A marine company boss who pocketed almost $52,000 for letting his firm's bank account be used to receive almost $244,000 in stolen funds from a stranger was jailed for 17 months yesterday.

Soon Beng Kim was initially cleared of money laundering and receiving stolen property but was convicted by the High Court after an appeal by the prosecution.

High Court judge Tay Yong Kwang said the district judge who acquitted Soon was wrong to have attributed the businessman's acts to mere carelessness, adding that various matters in this case ought to have put a reasonable man with honest intentions on high alert. He noted that Soon chose not to take the stand during his trial.

"His refusal to be cross-examined... pointed clearly to a guilty mind, one that had ample reasons to believe that the money was 'stolen' but chose to receive and deal with the money anyway, obviously because of the very attractive reward," said Justice Tay.

Soon had agreed to allow the account to be used after he was approached by his Greek employee, Mr Pantelis Sendonas Goulas.

Mr Goulas, a business development manager who was sentenced to 14 months' jail after pleading guilty, testified in Soon's trial. He has been released from prison.

He had chatted online with a woman claiming to be an Australian named Regina Smith working as an oil and gas engineer in Malaysia. She asked Mr Goulas for help to receive a sum of money from her company as she did not have a bank account in Malaysia.

Mr Goulas suggested using his company's account.

He spoke to Soon and showed him his online conversations.

Soon agreed to help but said he would keep about 20 per cent for tax. He also asked Mr Goulas to find out the sender's name and amount involved. At first, Smith said US$50,000 (S$71,000) would be sent by "Bridgeport" from the Bank of New York.

But eventually, US$200,000 stolen from US oil and gas company Shale Exploration was sent from a Wells Fargo account.

Soon, who withdrew the entire equivalent sum of $243,800, handed $189,000 to a woman who came to his office, after giving $3,000 to Mr Goulas and pocketing $51,800 for himself.

He surrendered the money during investigations. Prosecutors Leong Weng Tat and Joel Chen argued that Soon was not merely careless as he had noticed "red flags" such as the change in sender.

The maximum sentence for receiving stolen property is jail of up to five years and a fine. The maximum sentence for money laundering is a fine of up to $500,000 and jail of up to 10 years.

Selina Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 10, 2015, with the headline 'Firm's account used to receive stolen money: Boss gets 17 months'. Print Edition | Subscribe