Law catches up with interior designer for rental scam

An interior designer involved in a rental scam thought he had escaped the authorities for more than two years after his nine accomplices were brought to justice.

Willie Lim Zhao Hui conspired with flat owners and property agents to rake in $65,800 in two weeks by arranging rental for foreigners - then running off with their money. But yesterday he was jailed for a year and nine months after admitting to cheating offences.

In May and June 2010, the 25-year-old conspired with the owners of Housing Board flats in Punggol, Ang Mo Kio, Marsiling and Henderson Road. If a deal was struck, the victim would be asked to sign the rental agreement and hand over the deposit and agent's commission.

When the move-in date approached, they would cook up excuses for further delays. Finally, the victim would be asked to cancel the rental agreement. A refund of the money in instalments would be promised but no victim received anything.

Lim's eight accomplices were arrested and faced court in February 2011. Six were sentenced to between nine months and two years in jail. Two recalcitrant offenders were given five years and six years of corrective training respectively while a ninth suspect is claiming trial.

Lim was finally caught in 2012 after his accomplices told police of his involvement.

District Judge Siva Shanmugam said that Lim had "committed multiple offences in a relatively short period of time on foreign nationals belonging to a vulnerable class of victims".

The victims included a Malaysian, a Filipino and Indian nationals who had responded to online advertisements for the flats. Lim's lawyer Mr Anil Singh, told the court that his client, who had no previous brushes with the law, only played a minor role in the scam such as by posting the online advertisements. The lawyer added that Lim only received about $2,000 from the scam.

Lim, a bachelor, shook his head when the judge announced the sentence. He was then handcuffed by a police officer and led away to Changi prison. He could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.