Chief money mule jailed 14 years over $40 million SkillsFuture scam

SINGAPORE - A key player in what is believed to be the largest case of fraud against a government institution was jailed for 14 years and four months on Friday (July 15).

Sim Soon Lee, 46, pleaded guilty to a slew of charges that include engaging in a criminal conspiracy to defraud statutory board SkillsFuture Singapore of close to $40 million and abetting money launderers to hide the sum.

Sim joined months after the syndicate was formed, but "took it to a new dimension" as its chief money launderer and main recruiter who brought in company directors to front more than 8,300 bogus claims, said the prosecution.

Some $21 million of the money scammed is still lost.

According to court documents, the case involved Sim, who was a self-employed consultant then, and four others: Ng Cheng Kwee, 45; Lee Lai Leng, 43; David Lim Wee Hong, 43; and Andy Quek Sze Leng, 41.

Ng, Lee and Quek were dealt with earlier and handed lengthy jail terms of up to 17 years and nine months.

The syndicate used nine shell companies to submit 268 fraudulent claims worth $714,112 to SkillsFuture between April and August 2017.

The firms posed as training providers and applicants and lodged fake claims to exploit the course fee subsidies via SkillsFuture's online portal.

Enticed by the offer of commission, Sim joined around May, tasked to recruit nominee directors for the shell companies.

This was to obscure the syndicate members' individual identities and evade detection from the authorities, said deputy public prosecutors Jordon Li, Tan Zhi Hao and Ivan Chua.

Sim recruited his friends - Quek, Ang Cheng Guan, 50, and Tan Wee Kee, 60 - and rewarded them in return for their Singpass details and consent to be registered as nominee directors of the companies.

Ang and Tan have been given jail terms of up to eight years and eight months.

The group doubled down on the claims and submitted 8,381 fraudulent course fee grant applications to SkillsFuture by October 2017.

In the applications, they lied that 25,141 employees from their companies had attended training courses conducted by three training providers that they listed.

By October, $39,944,296 had been disbursed by SkillsFuture.

Sim then oversaw a sophisticated money laundering operation to hide some $28 million of the money by accompanying the nominee directors to encash the cheques from the grants.

He did so to ensure the directors did not embezzle the money.

The money was dissipated to numerous bank accounts.

In doing so, Sim received around $1 million in total commission and has not made any restitution.

He left Singapore for China in October 2017 and was deported in July 2018, when he was arrested.

Of the money stolen, the authorities recovered some $18.6 million.

Seeking up to 15 years and eight months' jail for Sim, the DPPs said he was one of the key instigators of the crime ring, whose operations became more complex and severe after he joined.

They added that Sim helped to make nearly $80 million worth of bogus claims and was personally involved in laundering more than half the scammed money as the "chief money mule" in the scheme.

The group stole from public funds and caused immense financial losses and reputational harm to SkillsFuture, the DPPs added.

In sentencing, Deputy Principal District Judge Luke Tan said: "This was a case involving a syndicate which, in the words of the prosecution, orchestrated the largest case of fraud involving a government institution."

Sim's jail term was backdated to July 14, 2018.

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