Accountant faces life imprisonment for allegedly pocketing more than $40m

Ewe Pang Kooi allegedly spent the money on gambling and repaying gambling debts. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A certified public accountant who allegedly pocketed more than $40 million from 21 companies he was liquidating and another one for which he was managing its finances went on trial in the High Court on Tuesday (July 3).

Ewe Pang Kooi, 64, a permanent resident from Malaysia, allegedly spent the money on gambling and repaying gambling debts. He also used the funds to return monies he had earlier taken from other companies.

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

He was charged in 2015 with 693 charges, but the prosecution proceeded only on 50 for criminal breach of trust (CBT) as an agent in the current trial. The 643 stood-down charges included forgery of bank statements, cheating and using benefits of criminal conduct at casinos.

The offence of CBT as an agent, which carries with it a heavier sentence compared to plain CBT, was in the spotlight in the last few years in the case involving the misuse of City Harvest Church funds.

In February, the Court of Appeal ruled that the offence applied only to people who made a living by offering services as agents.

In the current case, Deputy Public Prosecutors Hon Yi and Nicholas Khoo argued that, as a professional offering his services, Ewe was considered in law to be an agent.

The defence team, led by Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, on the other hand, said that Ewe was not entrusted with the money in the way of his business as an agent.

Both sides agree that Ewe had helped himself to assets and money over which he had control and access.

The trial, which has been scheduled for eight days, will centre on this legal issue.

Forty-three of the 50 CBT charges that Ewe faces related to 21 companies, including six subsidiaries of technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HP), that he was appointed to liquidate.

Ewe issued cheques from the companies being liquidated between 2002 and 2012. The charges state that the cheques were either encashed or deposited into other accounts and subsequently withdrawn.

One charge relates to a similar modus operandi when he was appointed as the receiver to take control of the assets owned by a person named Prem Ramchand Harjani, on behalf of security brokerage Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.

Another six charges relate to cheque withdrawals from a company called Technology Partners International (TPI), which outsourced accountancy and financial management services to E&M Management Consultants.

Ewe and his fellow director at E&M, Mr Mitsuru Morii, were authorised signatories of TPI's bank account. As two signatories were required for withdrawals, Ewe asked Mr Morii to pre-sign blank cheques, which he then used to issue cheques from TPI's bank account.

On Tuesday, Ms Lee Seok Lang, a former executive assistant at HP, testified that, in end June 2012, she repeatedly asked Ewe to convene final meetings in relation to two of the HP subsidiaries but he repeatedly delayed them.

A month later, Ewe confessed to her over the phone that he had misappropriated the money belonging to the subsidiaries, the court heard.

The maximum sentence for CBT as an agent is life imprisonment.

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