SINGAPORE - A 50-year-old man who was part of a group that cheated car rental companies by selling their cars across the Causeway 11 years ago was sentenced to 32 months' jail on Wednesday.
Lai Kah Goon pleaded guilty to two counts of cheating and dishonestly inducing the delivery of property. Another two of the same charge were taken into consideration during sentencing.
On one occasion in December 2004, Lai was told to rent a car at L&K Limousine Services by an accomplice, Koh Choon Siong, 40.
Koh then drove the car to Malaysia and handed it over to two other conspirators, Koh Chin Guan Steven and Alvin Ng.
The duo sold the vehicle, valued at $85,250, to unknown buyers.
Lai similarly rented another car worth $120,000 from Motorway Car Rentals on the same day, and Koh Choon Siong delivered it to the same conspirators the next day.
Lai did not receive any money from the car sales. He was given $5,000 from Koh Choon Siong to use for renting cars, and allowed to keep the remainder.
Lai left Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint later that month.
He was deported back to Singapore in May 2010, after serving out a 6-year jail term in China for drug trafficking.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Loh Hui-Min on Wednesday urged the court to jail Lai for 32 months.
Car rental companies do not have a reliable way of ascertaining that a customer is good for his word in returning a car, she said.
"A strong signal should be sent to the general public that such offences will not be tolerated," she said.
"Cars were deliberately removed from Singapore so as to avoid detection as well as apprehension," she added.
Pleading for leniency, Lai's lawyer Gogulakannan Suppayya said his client owed money to loansharks who "continuously harassed his home and his two young children then". Lai's children are now aged 14 and 19.
The need to pay off his debts also led Lai to later traffick drugs from Malaysia to China, said Mr Gogulakannan.
Lai admitted to his offences and has shown remorse, said the lawyer.
"He just wants to end his case and to move on," added Mr Gogulakannan.
The lawyer said Lai, a divorcee who now works as a driver earning $1,750, pays monthly maintenance to his ex-wife and children.
Passing sentence, District Judge Low Wee Ping said: "These victims are quite helpless in preventing these offences."
"These car rental companies, I agree with the prosecution, cannot tell whether a customer renting its car is genuine, or persons like yourself, intending to rent the car and instead drive them to Malaysia and then sell them."
"It is alarming because it sounds so easy," he added.
The judge also noted that the level of planning involved in the scheme was "quite sophisticated".
"Unless there is a strong deterrent sentence, others will attempt to commit such offences," he added.
For each count of cheating and dishonestly inducing the delivery of property, Lim could have been jailed for 7 years and fined.
Koh Choon Siong's case will be heard in court on Aug 5.
Koh Chin Guan Steven and Alvin Ng remain at large, while other conspirators in the cheating scheme remain unidentified.