$12k fine for real estate agent who failed to report suspicious transaction

Charles Tan Chun Peng had pleaded guilty to failing to flag the transaction to a reporting officer. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A real estate agent who received $44,300 in cash from a buyer for the purchase of a new condominium unit later discovered that the man was an undischarged bankrupt and was involved in illegal gambling den activities.

Despite this, Charles Tan Chun Peng from PropNex Realty disregarded his legal obligations and failed to file a report to flag the suspicious transaction.

On Wednesday (Dec 1), Deputy Public Prosecutor Kang Jia Hui said that there was need for general deterrence in this case "to impress on gatekeepers who perform professional services the importance of their duty in money-laundering prevention efforts".

Tan, 42, was fined $12,000 after he pleaded guilty to failing to flag the transaction to a reporting officer.

He also admitted to unlawfully holding the transaction monies on behalf of the property developer for the purchase of the condo.

A search on the public register of the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) revealed that Tan is still a salesman with PropNex Realty.

Sometime before October 2016, a female student who responded to an advertisement that Tan had put up over the sale of a property told him that her family members were unable to obtain a loan and would instead pay the required monies in cash.

Tan then asked the student if her family would be interested in buying a unit in a new condominium that had just been launched.

On Oct 18, 2016, the woman went to the showflat for the Kingsford Waterbay condominium in Upper Serangoon View with her brother and their father, Mr Ho Ah Leng.

The trio met Tan there and Mr Ho expressed his interest in buying a unit at the condominium.

Mr Ho, however, said that he had no bank account and asked if Tan could issue a cheque on his behalf.

The DPP said: "The accused initially declined but eventually relented so as to secure the sale and his commission. He was eager to do so, as he was in debt at that time.

"The accused did not ask Ho Ah Leng why no one in his family had a bank account nor make any checks as to Ho Ah Leng's occupation and source of funds."

Tan later collected a total of $44,300 from Mr Ho. The money was deposited into a joint bank account belonging to Tan and his wife.

Tan then issued a cheque from the joint account to secure the option to buy a unit at the condominium.

In a statement on Wednesday evening, CEA said: "Property agencies and agents are prohibited from handling transaction monies for or on behalf of any party in the sale or purchase of any property situated in Singapore and the lease of HDB property.

"This regulation is to protect consumers' interests. If agencies or agents handle transaction monies, they may compromise the integrity of the transaction and put their clients at risk, especially if they misappropriate the money or convert the money for their own use."

On Nov 1, 2016, Tan received a call from a woman claiming to be Mr Ho's former wife. Court documents did not disclose how she had found out about Tan's dealings with Mr Ho.

She told him that Mr Ho was an undischarged bankrupt and ran illegal gambling dens.

The court heard Tan conducted a search that confirmed Mr Ho's bankruptcy.

By then, the $44,300 had already been handed to the developers of Kingsford Waterbay condominium.

DPP Kang told the court: "Despite the accused's suspicion that the sum of $44,300 could have constituted criminal proceeds from Ho Ah Leng's illegal gambling den activities, he did not file a suspicious transaction report.

"Instead, the accused then triggered the process to seek a refund of the option fee and focused on rescinding the sale of the unit at Kingsford Waterbay."

The sale was aborted on Jan 26, 2017 and the $44,300 was eventually returned to Mr Ho.

Before handing down the sentence on Wednesday, District Judge Marvin Bay said that the case showed "egregious breaches" of Tan's responsibilities as a licensed estate agent in his "blind determination" to secure the sale.

Addressing him, the judge added: "A deterrent sentence is... merited from the circumstances to ensure that other estate agents will not follow in your footsteps."

The CEA spokesman said in its statement: "Following the court sentencing... CEA will assess Charles Tan's fitness and propriety to continue to be a property agent, and take the necessary action, which could include a revocation of his salesperson registration."

In a statement to The Straits Times on Thursday, CEA said that while Tan collected $44,300 in total, only $43,300 was involved in the charges for holding transaction monies.

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