Jailed 15 years for $11.2m theft from luxury goods firm

A Chopard boutique in Ngee Ann City. The Swiss company, known for its watches and jewellery, did not know that Chew was embezzling its money until the Commercial Affairs Department started investigating her after a tip-off. She was sacked in August 2012.
A Chopard boutique in Ngee Ann City. The Swiss company, known for its watches and jewellery, did not know that Chew was embezzling its money until the Commercial Affairs Department started investigating her after a tip-off. She was sacked in August 2012. PHOTO: CHOPARD

Accounting manager at Chopard tampered with cheques over 61/2 years; spent over $2.1 million on 4D bets

An accounting manager who siphoned $11.2 million from a Swiss watch and jewellery company she worked for was jailed for 15 years yesterday.

Chew Siew Lang, 53, misappropriated the money over a period of 61/2 years - mostly by using erasable ink to write on cheques made out to Chopard's suppliers for bogus transactions.

After getting the required two signatures - she herself was authorised to sign Chopard's cheques - she replaced the names of the payees with her own name or "cash".

The offences took place between January 2006 and August 2012.

To cover her tracks, she created false accounting entries and shredded the payment vouchers she had prepared for the fake transactions.

She also made sure to embezzle less than $50,000 each time, as cheques of larger amounts had to be co-signed by someone from the head office in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • $50k
    Less than this amount embezzled each time, as cheques of larger amounts had to be co-signed by someone from the head office in Geneva, Switzerland.

    $2.1m
    At least this much of her ill-gotten gains was spent on 4D lottery bets.

    76
    Number of cheques for between $20,000 and $68,000 issued from February 2009 to August 2012 to a Singapore Pools retailer for her bets.

The mother of three spent at least $2.1 million of her ill-gotten gains on 4D lottery bets. Between February 2009 and August 2012, she issued 76 cheques of between $20,000 and $68,000 to a Singapore Pools retailer for the bets.

In December last year, she pleaded guilty in the High Court to 56 charges - six counts of criminal breach of trust, 30 of falsification of accounts and 20 of using the benefits of her criminal conduct. Another 187 similar charges were taken into consideration.

The prosecution had sought 18 to 20 years' jail but the defence argued that Chew has an impulse control disorder which turns her into a pathological gambler.

The case was adjourned after Justice Woo Bih Li questioned whether there was a causal link between her mental disorder and her offences.

Yesterday, Chew's lawyer, Mr Daniel Chia, told the court his client was no longer pursuing this point and accepted psychiatric reports produced by the prosecution which stated that there was no causal link.

Mr Chia sought 12 years' jail, saying that his client was in poor health and that her family was "in shambles" even though they have come to terms with her deeds.

In sentencing, Justice Woo noted that it was good that Chew had the support of her family.

"However, I also have to take into account that you misappropriated a very huge sum for which only a small portion has been recovered," said the judge.

Chopard, known for its watches and jewellery, did not know that Chew was embezzling money and found out only when the Commercial Affairs Department started investigating her after a tip-off.

The company sacked her in August 2012 and later filed a civil suit against her and her husband.

It has recovered only about $197,000, including money from the couple's bank accounts, two watches, three diamond rings and refunds from Singapore Pools.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Jailed 15 years for $11.2m theft from luxury goods firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe