Accountant who swindled $40m from several firms faces life sentence

Ewe Pang Kooi siphoned money over 10 years from 21 firms he was supposed to liquidate, as well as from two other firms where he was managing the finances. He used the sums to feed his gambling habit.
Ewe Pang Kooi siphoned money over 10 years from 21 firms he was supposed to liquidate, as well as from two other firms where he was managing the finances. He used the sums to feed his gambling habit.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

A certified public accountant who swindled over $40 million from several companies now faces a possible life sentence after he was convicted in the High Court yesterday.

Ewe Pang Kooi, 65, siphoned money over 10 years from 21 companies he was supposed to liquidate, as well as from two other companies where he was managing the finances. He used the sums to feed his gambling habit.

Ewe, a permanent resident from Malaysia, was convicted on 50 charges of committing criminal breach of trust as an agent following a trial that began last July.

In court yesterday, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that Ewe, who did not deny misappropriating the money, had committed the offences "in the way of his business as a professional agent".

This was a key point of contention between the prosecution and the defence, as those who commit criminal breach of trust as an agent face a harsher sentence than those who are not professional agents.

Ewe's case, in which he was entrusted with the monies in his role as liquidator, receiver and manager of the bank accounts of the companies, is quintessentially one of someone who was entrusted with monies in the way of his business as a professional agent, said Justice Chan.

"The reality of modern society is such that one cannot be expected to undertake all tasks on his own. Therefore, there is wide reliance by the public on professional agents," he said in his grounds of decision.

 
 

"If the public cannot trust its liquidators and receivers to maintain high ethical and professional standards, the entire insolvency process would undoubtedly fall apart."

The court had earlier heard that Ewe, as the appointed liquidator of the 21 companies, had control of their bank accounts and assets so that he could make payments to creditors or to recover any assets.

Instead, he transferred the assets into various bank accounts that had him as an authorised signatory.

The same modus operandi was used for the other two companies whose finances he was managing. He would present blank cheques to another signatory, if required, before transferring the funds to his own accounts.

Between February 2002 and July 2012, he used the funds to feed his gambling habit, settle debts or reinstate amounts he had siphoned off.

This is the first case since the City Harvest Church saga that tests the boundaries of what is defined as a public servant, banker, merchant or agent in a criminal breach of trust offence.

Ewe, whose sentencing has been adjourned to a later date, faces life in prison and a fine.

The maximum sentence for criminal breach of trust as an agent is lifetime imprisonment and a fine.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2019, with the headline 'Accountant who swindled $40m from several firms faces life sentence'. Print Edition | Subscribe