SINGAPORE - A former grassroots volunteer who cheated 12 victims of more than $1.4 million was sentenced to eight years' jail on Thursday (May 17).
Reichie Chng Teck Kiam, 51, had even used the name of Mr Ong Ye Kung, who is now Education Minister, to make his ruse more believable.
Chng pleaded guilty to 30 charges on Thursday after cheating his victims between November 2012 and March last year. The money was largely used to sustain his gambling habit, the court heard.
Chng got to know his victims mostly through grassroots activities. He was a volunteer at Kaki Bukit constituency between 2011 and 2015. Mr Ong was an adviser to the constituency at the time.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Vikneswaran Kumaran told the court that Chng told his victims he was raising funds for investment in a legal moneylending business, Elite Investment & Credit. Said the DPP: "To bolster the legitimacy of this investment scheme, the accused also claimed that Mr Ong and his wife were involved in the moneylending business and the corresponding investment scheme."
Chng then told the victims that they would receive lucrative monthly returns of between 3 per cent and 8 per cent if they invested. In reality, neither Mr Ong nor his wife was involved in the company, and no such investment opportunity was available, said DPP Vikneswaran.
Court documents showed that through this ruse, Chng managed to persuade two victims - Mr Tan Boon Hai and Mr Chua Boon Joon - into handing over $500,000 and $158,000 respectively.
However, when Chng had difficulties repaying them, the victims became suspicious and began to demand their money back.
To convince them of the legitimacy of the scheme, Chng then forged multiple WhatsApp conversations in relation to the scheme, purportedly between him and Mr Ong, and sent screenshots to the victims.
Chng also forged numerous business agreements in an bid to make the scheme appear more legitimate, including one purportedly entered into with "Diana Kuek Sin Len". The agreements indicated this to be Mr Ong's wife, said the DPP. Mr Ong's wife's name is Kuik Sin Leng.
Moreover, Chng managed to convince Mr Tan to lend him $250,000 by telling him that he needed the money to repay a bank loan on the same day, failing which he would be declared bankrupt.
Believing that Chng was facing dire circumstances, Mr Tan borrowed the money from a friend to help him pay off the loan.
"However, investigations revealed that there was no such bank loan that the accused needed to repay on the day," said DPP Vikneswaran. He added that in doing this, Chng had "preyed on the generosity" of the victim.
Chng also managed to deceive Mr Chua into handing over an additional $70,000, supposedly for investment into another company, Malaysia-registered Ecotrans.
Chng, a frequent gambler, also engaged in money laundering by converting more than $131,000 worth of cash - largely obtained from his cheating schemes - into casino chips at Marina Bay Sands.
The fraudulent schemes came to light when Mr Ong lodged a police report in March last year after being alerted by one of the victims.
Chng was consequently arrested and charged over more than 100 offences in September that year.
Describing Chng as "a serial cheat", DPP Vikneswaran called his actions "highly premeditated and very deceptive". The DPP noted that while partial restitution had been made - totalling approximately $51,000 - some of the repayments had, in fact, been framed as investment returns.
Before handing out his sentence, District Judge Ng Peng Hong berated Chng for having "exploited the position of a grassroots volunteer".
In a plea for a lenient sentence, Chng's defence lawyer T.M. Sinnadurai said that his client had been cooperative throughout the charges and was "remorseful".
For cheating, Chng could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge. For each count of forgery for the purpose of cheating, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.