Woman jailed for US$1-million scam by issuing dud cheques

Aileen Neo told her friend she could get better rates to convert a total of US$1 million into local currency.
Aileen Neo told her friend she could get better rates to convert a total of US$1 million into local currency.

She issued close friend dud cheques in currency exchange deal

A woman was yesterday jailed for 61/2 years for cheating a close friend of US$1 million, after claiming she could obtain a favourable foreign exchange rate for the funds.

The money belonged to a recycling company, and the friend acted as an intermediary to try to secure the better exchange rate.

In fact, the friend was given dud cheques and the funds - two cheques for US$500,000 - simply disappeared.

Aileen Neo, 48, pleaded guilty to two counts of cheating Mr Hia Chye Kiang, 59, the husband of an employee of the recycling company, Soon Kim Hardware Trading Co, of the funds. The charges refer to Mr Hia as he handed the funds to Neo - even though they ultimately belonged to Soon Kim.

District Judge Soh Tze Bian said Soon Kim was fleeced in September 2011 of the US$1 million - worth about $1.3 million at the time - in a matter of days.

The judge said Neo had abused the trust of her close friends, Mr Hia and his wife, Ms Koh Gek Hwang, 50, who worked as an accounts clerk for Soon Kim, based in Defu Lane.

Neo had claimed that she could exchange the US$500,000 sums for $650,000 and $675,000 respectively. She issued dud cheques to the company.

"Till today, no one knows where the monies are. The monies could have been squandered or squirrelled away despite the accused person's denial in this regard," the judge said.

At an earlier hearing, Neo blamed fictitious third parties for the loss of the money.

She persisted with these allegations at a separate hearing held to resolve disputed points and ascertain the correct basis for sentencing.

"She has refused to come clean on the true whereabouts of the monies," the judge said.

The fact that the separate hearing was aborted "puts paid to both the accused person's insistence that non-existent third parties are to blame, as well as any notion that the accused person is at all remorseful for her actions", he said.

The two offences took place at HDB Hub in Toa Payoh in September 2011.

Neo and the couple - Mr Hia and Ms Koh - had been close friends since 2000 through their mutual forays into commodity trading and frequent meetings 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 to local currency.

She had heard that Neo had a wide circle of friends and had financial standing.

A few days later, Neo told Mr Hia that she was able to offer a better US dollar rate. She said she could pay $650,000 in exchange for US$500,000.

Mr Hia relayed the message to his wife who then told her boss.

Ms Koh prepared a US$500,000 cheque from Soon Kim's account and was given a POSB cheque for $650,000 from Neo whose POSB account had insufficient funds to fulfil the cheque.

A few days later, Neo contacted Mr Hia, saying she was leaving for Genting that weekend and lied that she could exchange $675,00 for the other sum of US$500,000.

But she handed over a similar amount of $650,000 in exchange for the US$500,000.

When Ms Koh attempted to encash the cheque, the company received a return cheque advice from the bank, refusing to cash the cheque because of differences in signature.

Neo faced a possible jail term of up to 10 years and/or a fine on each charge.