Criminal syndicate member involved in $2.5m investment scam gets over 12 years' jail

SINGAPORE - A member of a transnational criminal syndicate has been sentenced to 12 years and one month's jail over his involvement in an investment scam that saw victims lose about $2.5 million in total.

Wei Yong, 44, pleaded guilty on Monday (April 19) to four cheating-related charges and one count of holding a fake Myanmar passport.

Six other cheating-related charges were taken into consideration by District Judge Marvin Bay during sentencing.

The court heard that Wei, a Chinese national, was part of a criminal syndicate based in China.

Together with four other syndicate members, he came up with a plot in 2016 to set up and use shell companies for the purpose of cheating high-net-worth individuals of their money.

The court heard that the group duped 10 people, who all had businesses in China at the time of the scam.

Wei and the other syndicate members falsely represented to the victims that the shell companies operated in established financial hubs such as the United States and Singapore, and were able to raise investment funds on behalf of the victims' businesses.

The victims were asked to pay large sums of money, termed "administrative fees", to the shell companies to facilitate the fund-raising process and cover the costs incurred.

It was understood by the victims that the investment funds raised would be far more substantial than the amount of administrative fees paid, the court heard.

Court documents state that the victims were invited to attend talks and workshops on topics relating to finance, investment opportunities and business expansion in China, Singapore and the US.

They were also flown to Singapore and invited to a "business office" located at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, where negotiations were conducted between syndicate members and the victims.

But the "office" was in fact rooms rented by the criminal syndicate on an ad hoc basis.

The victims were then given contracts purporting to be investment agreements - which had the address of the rented premises printed on the header - to sign.

After the victims signed the contracts and returned to China, they were instructed by the syndicate to remit the administrative fees.

Between 2017 and 2019, the syndicate received about $2.5 million in total from the 10 victims.

The proceeds of the scam were split between the five members, with Wei gambling away most of his share at the Singapore casinos.

The court heard that no restitution has been made by the group to date.

Wei was arrested at Changi Airport Terminal 1 on Nov 19, 2019, and found with a fake Myanmar passport.

In sentencing Wei on Monday, Judge Bay noted the syndicate's "meticulously planned attempts to inject a veneer of legitimacy" that the fictitious companies had a business presence in Singapore, including the renting of the Marina Bay Financial Centre rooms.

"There is a need to deal decisively with syndicate-run scams of this nature," he added.

Wei's jail term has been backdated to Nov 21, 2019, when he was remanded.

For each of his cheating offences, Wei could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined. He could also have been jailed for up to 10 years, or fined up to $10,000, or both, for possessing the fake passport.

Court documents did not mention whether the four other syndicate members have been caught or dealt with.

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