$40m crook exposed to gambling from age 6

Certified public accountant Ewe Pang Kooi was convicted in March of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent. He is expected to be sentenced in July.
Certified public accountant Ewe Pang Kooi was convicted in March of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent. He is expected to be sentenced in July.ST FILE PHOTO

Accountant, who stole from clients, wagered $150k at one go as it gave him a kick: DPP

Certified public accountant Ewe Pang Kooi was a pathological gambler who usually placed bets of $150,000 each at the table because this gave him a kick.

His lifelong exposure to gambling started at the age of six, when he helped with his father's illegal gambling operation in Malaysia.

To feed his gambling addiction, the Perak-born Ewe turned to a life of crime, pocketing $40 million from various clients over a decade.

Yesterday, prosecutors sought 30 years' jail for the 65-year-old Singapore permanent resident, given the "phenomenal" sum taken and his high degree of culpability.

The defence argued for a term of 12 to 18 years, saying he had fully cooperated with the police.

Justice Chan Seng Onn adjourned the case and is expected to give his sentencing decision in July. Ewe is out on bail of $1 million.

Ewe was the managing partner of accounting firm Ewe, Loke & Partners, and a director of E&M Management Consultants, which provided financial consulting and corporate restructuring services.

He siphoned money from 21 companies he was supposed to liquidate, including six subsidiaries of Hewlett-Packard (HP), and one company whose bank accounts he was managing. He also embezzled the assets of an individual in his role as a receiver.

 
 

Ewe had control over the bank accounts and assets of the clients so that he could make payments to creditors or recover any assets. Instead, he transferred the assets into bank accounts that had him as an authorised signatory.

Between February 2002 and July 2012, he used the funds to feed his gambling habit, settle debts or reinstate amounts he had siphoned off. To cover his tracks, he moved funds between the various entities.

But his wrongdoings were uncovered after the HP group chased him about the assets from the liquidation of the companies.

In March, he was convicted of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent.

The story of how Ewe's "association with gambling had dogged him all his life" - in the words of his lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Khoo - emerged yesterday.

Ewe helped his father collect betting slips when he was as young as six. He worked as a croupier at Genting Highlands Resort after completing secondary school in Penang, and also in Newcastle, England while he was studying accountancy.

In the early days of his career in Singapore, Ewe started gambling on cruise ships and later at the two resort casinos. As his losses mounted, Ewe first sold his apartment - and then he helped himself to clients' money.

A defence psychiatric report said his addiction "took a life of its own and clouded his judgment".

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said Ewe had a permanent hotel room on Sentosa and usually wagered $150,000 because he did not feel the kick with smaller bets. While he did not amass riches from his crimes, he led a high life that he could not have afforded otherwise.

The DPP argued that a jail term of 30 years was in line with precedents. These include the cases of former Singapore Airlines supervisor Teo Cheng Kiat, who was jailed 24 years for siphoning $35 million from his employer, and former Asia Pacific Breweries executive Chia Teck Leng, jailed 42 years for swindling four banks of $117 million.

But Mr Khoo urged the court to consider the cases of Setho Oi Lin, jailed 12 years for duping 1,341 people into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships, and accounts clerk Richard Tiang, jailed 18 years for embezzling $46 million.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2019, with the headline '$40m crook exposed to gambling from age 6'. Print Edition | Subscribe