Woman jailed 78 months for foreign exchange cheating case involving US$1m

An unemployed woman was jailed for 61/2 years on Monday for deceiving a friend into believing that she could get better foreign exchange rates for two sums of US$500,000.

Aileen Neo, 48, admitted to two counts of duping Mr Hia Chye Kiang, 59, into believing that she was able to exchange $650,000 for US$500,000 and $675,000 for the second similar amount in September 2011.

A district court heard that the money belonged to Soon Kim Hardware Trading, which deals with recycling metal products and buys copper as part of its business to export to China. Mr Hia's wife, Ms Koh Gek Hwang, 50, worked as an accounts clerk at Soon Kim. The couple were close to Neo as they both dabbled in commodity trading and frequently met for coffee or meals.

In September 2011, Ms Koh asked her husband to check with Neo if she was able to get better foreign currency exchange rates for US dollars as Soon Kim needed to convert a total of US$1 million ($1.3 million then) to Singapore dollars. A few days later, Neo lied to Mr Hia that she could get $650,000 for US$500,000. After Mr Hia had handed over the US$500,000 cheque to Neo at Toa Payoh Hub, she gave him a POSB cheque for $650,000 linked to her account with insufficient funds.

A few days later, Neo contacted Mr Hia and falsely represented to him that she could exchange $675,00 for US$500,000 This time she again handed over a $650,000 POSB cheque in exchange for US$500,000.

When Ms Koh encashed the cheque, the company received a return cheque advice from the bank due to differences in signature. The couple lodged a report in April last year when they could not find Neo.

District Judge Soh Tze Bian found that Neo had had not demonstrated any remorse, abused the trust of her close friends and blamed fictitious third-parties for the loss.

The maximum penalty for each charge is 10 years and a fine.