Jailed swindler faces longer term

CJ grants prosecution time extension to file appeal against sentence for insurance agent

An insurance agent, jailed for nine months for swindling his client and friend of 20 years, may have to spend even longer behind bars after prosecutors were given a time extension to file an appeal.

Tan Peng Khoon, 44, was working for AIA when he hatched a plan to deceive 61-year-old widow Lim Choon Hoong. The illiterate Mandarin-speaking factory worker unwittingly signed four English-language documents in 2011 surrendering her life insurance policy for $2,018 and letting her obtain a $6,500 loan on another life insurance policy.

She authorised Tan to receive the sums on her behalf. He also convinced her to make him a joint holder of her POSB account.

On Oct 13, 2011, he withdrew $6,500 from the account and spent 19 hours playing the jackpot machines at Resorts World Sentosa. He came out, withdrew a further $2,000 from an ATM from Madam Lim's account and spent a further 21/2 hours at the casino.

Madam Lim, who earned up to $600 a month, lived with her younger son who was financially dependent on her. But in previous years she had loaned various sums to Tan which totalled about $150,000.

He never repaid her, but when she stopped lending him money, he hatched the plan to swindle her of whatever little she still had, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon noted in decision grounds released yesterday.

Tan was found guilty of four charges of forgery and two counts of cheating by District Judge Salina Ishak in February, after a 13-day trial. He had been sentenced to a total of 24 months in jail, but four of the terms were to run concurrently, resulting in a nine-month term.

He appealed against the conviction and sentence but subsequently withdrew the petition of appeal and began his jail term in July.

The prosecution gave notice of appeal against the sentence in February, but failed to file its papers within the required 14-day deadline after the district judge had served the decision grounds in May.

After the prosecution discovered the mistake on June 5, it took immediate steps to apply for a time extension to appeal, noted the Chief Justice. Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Oh argued there were aggravating factors justifying an appeal, saying the sentence would remain as a precedent if left uncorrected.

The Chief Justice granted a time extension for prosecutors, who filed their appeal on June 10; by then they had missed their deadline by about 25 days due to an "administrative lapse". He noted the "novelty" of the case - being the first time the prosecution had asked for a time extension to appeal - but found the move would not unfairly prejudice the defendant.

Making clear the delay was not to be condoned, he said the problem "had to be balanced against the public interest in pursuing an appeal".

He held that "the touchstone" in deciding whether such applications should be granted "remains the interests of justice in the particular case".

But he found there was no prejudice in the case as Tan had withdrawn his appeal, even though he knew the prosecution had filed notice seeking an extension of time to appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 18, 2015, with the headline 'Jailed swindler faces longer term'. Print Edition | Subscribe