Woman in alleged ponzi scam reported missing

A Mercedes-Benz and a BMW were seen parked at the Tanah Merah semi-detached house of Madam Leong Lai Yee, but neighbours said they have not seen the family in two or three weeks.
A Mercedes-Benz and a BMW were seen parked at the Tanah Merah semi-detached house of Madam Leong Lai Yee, but neighbours said they have not seen the family in two or three weeks.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Investors, who claim she owes them $60m, fear she may have left the country

MADAM Leong Lai Yee, the woman at the centre of an alleged million-dollar ponzi scam who has been uncontactable for more than a week, has been reported missing.

Investors who say they are owed a total of $60 million fear that she has left the country.

Madam Leong's sister Veronica had reported to the police last Saturday that she was missing.

Last week, about 60 investors came forward to say they had given Madam Leong money, which she said would be used to buy distressed properties in prime districts to be sold at a profit to overseas buyers. They were promised payments on May 18, after several months of postponements.

But when the day came, several of them received not money but a letter from Madam Leong in which she said she would take her life.

An investor who gave his name only as Mr Ong went to her house in Tanah Merah on May 16 after she did not reply to text messages, and calls to her and her husband's phones could not get through.

"The lights were on and both cars were seen," Mr Ong told The Straits Times, adding that no one responded when he pressed the doorbell.

He said he contacted "all those people close to her to ask them if they know where they are, as it's weird to have the whole family go overseas at this stressful period of time when she promised payment to investors".

The Straits Times called Madam Leong, her husband, two of their children and Madam Leong's sister, but could not get through to them.

Madam Leong and her husband Lim Eng Soon were believed to be former property agents. Mr Lim later traded in foreign exchange, investors said.

The couple had owned or managed a total of 11 companies, including an educational consultancy, a real estate company and an investment holding company, at various times from as far back as 1983.

All have since been cancelled, terminated or struck off, according to records from the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.

The newest one, Golden Space Investment, was registered in November 2009 and struck off 11/2 years later.

The couple are known for being generous.

At least two investors attended a Chinese New Year party this year where guests were treated to a lavish buffet spread including wine and crayfish. One of them, Mr S. Goh, 58, a businessman who has known the family for 14 years, said the family regularly hosts Chinese New Year gatherings and birthday parties at their three-storey semi-detached house.

"It's posh. There are plenty of art pieces and she even had a bamboo garden which she said cost more than $15,000," he told The Straits Times last week.

Mr Goh was also told by Madam Leong that she owned five other condominium units. He visited two of them, in Simei and Orchard Road. But he believes she has since sold all five.

The Tanah Merah property had been renovated recently and was listed for sale online last month.When The Straits Times visited the house yesterday evening, a Mercedes-Benz and a BMW, which neighbours said belonged to the family, were parked there. Investors say the couple live with their son and daughter. Another daughter is overseas.

What appeared to be a week's worth of newspapers were strewn about the front porch.

Neighbours said they have not seen the family in two or three weeks, but described them as friendly. "The husband would give us starfruit from their tree," said Madam Pan Lay Choo, 59, a housewife.

She said she has known Madam Leong's family since they moved in about eight years ago, and her son is friends with one of Madam Leong's two daughters, although the two families are not close.

A car used by one of the daughters had not returned to the house recently, Madam Pan said, adding that the family's maid and dog were nowhere to be seen. The police were seen at the house last week.

joseow@sph.com.sg