Car dealer boss jailed 7 years for cheating involving nearly $3.2 million

Sign outside the former office of Cars Today Pte at 18 Kaki Bukit Road 3 #02-16. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - From a Lexus GS300 and a Porsche Boxster to a Geely CK and a Chery QQ, a range of cars paid for by 50 buyers between January 2013 and February last year were repossessed by finance companies.

Unbeknownst to the buyers, the second-cars had not been registered under their names.

Used-car dealer Cars Today had been running a scam and defaulted on the repayment of loans, which it had taken to buy the cars.

In all, the company cheated 71 buyers, 14 sellers and four finance companies out of a total of $3.16 million in money and cars.

The buyers and sellers lost at least $1.42 million in total.

On Wednesday (June 15), the company's de facto boss Poh Chee Tiong, 62, an undischarged bankrupt, was jailed for seven years.

He had earlier pleaded guilty to 33 out of 168 charges, most of which were for cheating.

He admitted to the remaining 135 charges and these were considered in sentencing.

District Judge Salina Ishak, in her brief grounds of decision, said: "(Poh) had caused significant monetary harm and great inconvenience to his victims."

She noted, among other things, there were 89 victims in all - buyers, sellers and finance companies - and that the offences were committed over a long period of time.

"(Poh) had planned a systematic and elaborate scam to cheat the customers and creditors of Cars Today; (he) committed the offences for personal benefit as he wanted to expand Cars Today's operation and fleet of cars," the judge added.

The court heard that Poh was the sole owner of used-car dealer Car Kingdom between 2007 and 2009, but he was bankrupted in 2009.

In July 2011, he told his wife Liew Foong Lin, 46, to register Cars Today in her name. Poh solely managed the company.

To get loans to buy cars, Poh would enter into flooring agreements with finance companies.

Under each such agreement, Cars Today would transfer the registered ownership of a car it bought to its financier, so that the finance company would have the right to repossess the car, if the dealer defaulted on its loan repayment terms.

When the used-car dealer bought a car on credit, it was supposed to inform the finance company of the price at which it bought the car, and sell the car and repay the loan as soon as possible, lest more interest accrue.

But Poh wanted to expand Cars Today's business and fleet of cars, and also increase its cash flow.

So, unknown to its buyers, it did not transfer the ownership of cars to them after they had paid for and collected the vehicles.

In some cases, Cars Today would buy a car and sell it, and thereafter apply for a loan under a flooring agreement. It would thus get a loan and transfer the car's ownership to the finance company, instead of the buyer who had already collected it.

Cars Today also forged documents to mark up the purchase price of cars, deceiving its financiers into giving out larger loans as a result.

Poh even roped in his son, Poh Ee, 28, then a manager at Cars Today, to do this. Between December 2013 and December 2014, Poh Ee made changes to 18 copies of sales and purchase agreements which sellers had signed, marking up prices at which the cars were bought.

Sellers, meanwhile, were cheated into delivering their vehicles to Cars Today, thinking the company would settle their outstanding car loans. But Cars Today did not.

After delivering their cars, some sellers still had to pay road tax and insurance premiums because they were still listed as their cars' registered owners.

Poh's wife and son were fined $3,000 and $15,000 respectively last month for their crimes. Liew pleaded guilty to one charge of abetting her husband in managing a company as an undischarged bankrupt, while Poh Ee pleaded guilty to three out of 18 charges of abetting his father in committing forgery.

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