A certified public accountant with an "insatiable appetite for gambling" who siphoned close to $41 million from his clients for over a decade to feed his addiction was yesterday sentenced to a jail term of 25 years and 10 months.
"It is fair to say that one man's gambling habit came at a great price for many," said High Court judge Chan Seng Onn, noting that about $24 million remained unrecovered.
Ewe Pang Kooi, 65, a Singapore permanent resident, was convicted in March of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent.
In sentencing, Justice Chan noted the large scale of the misappropriation involving funds of 22 companies and an individual, Ewe's careful planning in devising a complex scheme of payments, and the steps he took that allowed the embezzlement to go undiscovered for a decade.
However, the judge gave Ewe a sentencing discount for cooperating with investigations, making partial restitution and contesting the charges solely on the legal issue of whether he pocketed the money "in the way of his business as an agent".
Justice Chan also took into account Ewe's age, in the light of the long jail time that he faces, to further tweak the total sentence downwards "to avoid giving a sentence that is tantamount to a life imprisonment term".
The judge, who is known for using graphs in his judgments, also plotted precedent cases to derive mathematical equations that produced three bands of preliminary sentences depending on the amounts misappropriated.
The prosecution had sought 30 years in jail, while the defence argued for a term of 12 to 18 years.
Justice Chan concluded: "With remission, the accused may have the chance of being released before his passing.
"It is hoped that he will use this lifeline wisely, and use whatever time he has remaining (whether in prison or otherwise) to strive to make amends and reflect on the extreme gravity of his wrongdoing and the serious monetary harm he has caused to all the clients who had fully entrusted him with their monies."
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.
He 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.
His wrongdoings were uncovered after the HP group chased him about the assets from the liquidation of the companies.
Ewe's lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, indicated that his client will appeal against the conviction and sentence.