'Corporate money mule' has jail term cut

Judge in first such prosecution also lays down sentencing guidelines

Abdul Ghani Tahir, a chartered accountant, will serve a year in jail and pay a fine of $50,000.
Abdul Ghani Tahir, a chartered accountant, will serve a year in jail and pay a fine of $50,000.

The first person to be prosecuted here as a "corporate money mule" had his jail term cut by more than half by the High Court, in a decision which also laid down sentencing guidelines for future cases.

Abdul Ghani Tahir, 52, partly won his appeal against sentence and will serve a year in jail for his neglect in allowing the bank account of a company - of which he was a director - to be used for money laundering. He was also fined $50,000.

He was originally sentenced last year to a jail term of 26 months and four weeks. As a chartered accountant, he provided corporate secretarial services, including incorporating companies on behalf of clients and acting as the resident director of companies with overseas directors.

In December 2011, he incorporated World Eastern International on behalf of a Romanian man and agreed to be the resident director of the firm, which was supposedly in the business of "wholesale of parts and accessories for vehicles".

He had never met the company owner but set up the firm at the request of a Romanian agent named Nadia Monica. Between April 11 and May 28, 2012, $321,954 was deposited into the firm's UOB bank account from Singapore, Austria, Sudan and Canada, and $637,300 was transferred to accounts in China, Morocco, the United States, Geneva, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.

During this time, he received notices from UOB to recall the six deposits. He told the agent to deal with the notices but she did not reply.

In June 2012, a director of the Singapore firm which made the sixth deposit asked for the funds to be returned. The matter was not resolved.

After an eight-day trial in 2015, Abdul Ghani was convicted of six counts under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act and one count under the Companies Act.

A district judge found that the transfers of the six deposits - which were considered stolen as the victims had been tricked into depositing the money - were the result of his neglect as an officer of the firm. Abdul Ghani appealed against conviction and sentence.

In a 93-page written judgment released yesterday, Justice Chan Seng Onn dismissed his appeal against conviction, saying that the circumstances ought to have put him on inquiry that illicit activities were being carried out through the firm.

As this was the first such prosecution, Justice Chan set down sentencing guidelines by setting a notional upper limit based on the degree of mental culpability of the offender.

For the culpability level of "consent or connivance", the upper limit is 10 years' jail, pegged to the maximum prescribed by law; for "recklessness", the limit is four years; and for negligence, two years.

The judge said jail should not ordinarily be imposed for purely negligent breaches. But in Abdul Ghani's case, his culpability "evolved from mere negligence to sheer recklessness" by the time he received the fourth recall notice from UOB, which specifically alerted him to a probable fraudulent transaction.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline ''Corporate money mule' has jail term cut'. Subscribe