2 men jailed after working with then NUS lab executive to cheat university of over $300k

SINGAPORE - Two men worked with a laboratory executive at National University of Singapore (NUS) to cheat the university of more than $300,000 in total between 2017 and 2020.

Among other things, the pair, who were involved in private companies, had worked with Liaw Jinle, 34, to conceal his interest in the profits the firms made from their contracts with the university.

As a result, NUS was dishonestly induced to pay the contract sums to the firms.

Liaw, who is no longer with NUS, had conspired with Gan Yee Aun, 35, and Sandy Tan Wei Jie, 34, to cheat the university of nearly $200,000 and more than $100,000 respectively.

On Friday (July 1), Tan and Gan were each sentenced to 16 months and two weeks' jail. They had pleaded guilty to cheating and graft.

Liaw was sentenced to 20 months and two weeks' jail in March for two charges each of cheating and corruption.

He had borrowed money from Gan before joining NUS. The total amount was not disclosed in court documents.

The loan conditions included a 20 per cent "administrative fee", an interest rate of 20 per cent and late payment fees of $100 per day.

Liaw joined NUS' Centre for Advanced 2-Dimensional Materials in 2016, and the university then delegated the sourcing for quotations to employees such as him.

The following year, Liaw told Gan about his procurement responsibilities.

Liaw also shared with Gan his idea of setting up a company to direct jobs from NUS to it and earn profits.

But as an employee of NUS, he could not register such a firm under his name due to conflict of interest.

Gan agreed to be part of the plan and set up three companies - HOH Multitrade, GW Ways Enterprise and Ian OTM Services. He also took over a firm called Laco Management.

The firms were used to secure jobs from NUS. The profits would then be split in a 1:2 ratio between Liaw and Gan.

The court heard that Liaw was unable to keep up repayments of his loans to Gan by December 2018.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Victoria Ting said: "In or around January 2019, Liaw and Gan came to an agreement that Liaw's share of the profits from the NUS jobs which he helped Gan's entities secure from NUS would go towards paying off the interest on his debts to Gan.

"As such, from around this time period, a portion of the profits drawn by Gan's entities from their contracts with NUS went towards paying off Liaw's loan interest to Gan."

From November 2017 to February 2020, NUS awarded 60 jobs to Gan's firms, valued at more than $150,000 in total.

During the course of the conspiracy, Liaw also helped Gan's companies multiple times to help them secure jobs with NUS.

For instance, he advised Gan to refrain from putting down Gan's name on all documents sent to NUS by the firms.

DPP Ting said: "Instead, Liaw suggested that Gan input different names and contact (numbers) for the ostensible salespersons of each entity, to avoid the entities' common ownership being uncovered or the documents being traced back to Gan, especially when the entities were quoting for the same jobs.

"Liaw did this in order to reduce the risk that NUS would uncover Gan and his profit-sharing agreement as well."

Around September 2019, Liaw was tasked with sourcing for quotes for the centre's purchase of items including chemical spill response kits.

The prosecutor said: "Liaw and Gan agreed that Gan would submit quotes from three entities: Laco ($9,860), GW ($11,000) and HOH ($10,200). They knew that Laco would be awarded the contract as its price was the lowest.

"The quotes from GW and HOH were intended not to be genuine offers to perform the job quoted for but rather to ensure Laco was awarded the job."

DPP Ting said that Gan had estimated that the profit he had earned was more than $41,000 and he has since made full restitution.

Gan was represented by lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation.

In their mitigation plea, the lawyers said: "Liaw was clearly the inside-man at NUS who... abused the trust (placed) in him... There was no such aggravation of breach of trust on (Gan's) part."

Separately, Liaw had also borrowed money from Tan to pay off his loans to Gan.

The conditions included a 25 per cent "administrative fee", a 20 per cent interest rate and late payment fees of $200 per day should the loan not be repaid in three months.

Tan was working for his parents' company called Yi Cheng Electrical & Building Construction.

In December 2018, Liaw became unable to keep up with his loan repayments to Tan who then pestered him for the money.

The prosecutor said: "Eventually, sometime in early 2019, Tan told Liaw that he would stop demanding repayment if Liaw helped him get jobs from NUS.

"At the same time, he communicated to Liaw that some of the profits gained from NUS jobs would go towards repaying the loan. Liaw agreed."

Tan earned about $81,200 from the conspiracy.

All three men did not keep records of how much of Liaw's loan to Tan and Gan were paid off.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.