Bewildered - that was how an OCBC Bank relationship manager described his reaction when Yang Yin asked for $600,000 in $10,000 bills as collateral to purportedly open an art gallery in Hong Kong.
Yet the most eye-catching piece of evidence presented in court yesterday as the trial began to decide whether the former China tour guide misappropriated $1.1 million from a rich, elderly woman, was a Chinese painting that was folded repeatedly and found stuffed in an envelope in a piece of luggage.
Yang claims he bought the painting for the elderly woman, Madam Chung Khin Chun, for $500,000. But the prosecution said such a claim only shows that the 42-year-old was lying. The day's hearing, however, was cut short after Yang's lawyer said his client had been breaking out in a "cold sweat" and was not feeling well.
Nearly two years after Yang's involvement with wealthy widow Madam Chung was first reported in this paper, he faced the court yesterday to fight criminal breach of trust charges involving $1.1 million.
In May, he pleaded guilty to 120 charges, including offences involving his permanent residency and falsification of receipts which gave the impression he was running a legitimate business here. He is also being sued by Madam Chung's niece for allegedly manipulating her aunt into handing over her assets, worth an estimated $40 million.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjiv Vaswani told the court yesterday that Yang's claim that he withdrew $600,000 in 2012 to register a business in Hong Kong stood in "stark contrast" to documents filed in the civil suit, in which he stated it was used to purchase six paintings. The prosecution also said the withdrawal came after Yang had liquidated over $1.3 million worth of Madam Chung's unit trust investments.
Mr Ngoh Boon Leong, who was Yang's OCBC Bank relationship manager at that time, testified yesterday: "My understanding of opening business entities is that they don't normally require cash as collateral, plus the amount was indeed a bit too big, even if it's for this reason."
Also taking the stand was Assistant Superintendent Yow Kien Seng. He described how during a raid in September 2014 at a Fernvale Link flat, where Yang was staying at the time, a painting was found in his luggage.Yang said the painting by Chinese master Xu Beihong, called "Yin Ma Tu" or Horse Drinking Water, was bought for $500,000 on Madam Chung's behalf.
But according to the agreed statement of facts, the sum of $500,000 was transferred several times between Madam Chung's and Yang's accounts before it was finally deposited into Yang's father's Bank of China account in 2010.
Yang's lawyer Irving Choh, however, said the painting belonged to Madam Chung, and she had asked Yang to get it authenticated.
Madam Chung's long-time friend, Madam Chang Phie Chin, also testified yesterday. The 86-year- old, who used to live with Madam Chung, described how Yang and Madam Chung had kept in touch even after a trip to Beijing in 2008. Both women went together, and Yang was their tour guide.
A year later, he moved in to live with the widow in her Gerald Crescent bungalow. Some time later, Yang told Madam Chung, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2014, that he had to fire her long-time driver, as he had tried to strangle him. But Madam Chang said neither she nor Madam Chung saw it happen.
Appearing in a purple jumpsuit with his feet shackled, Yang, who is in remand since October 2014, showed little expression at the hearing. During Madam Chang's testimony, he was seen leaning against the side of the dock. Asked if he was well enough to continue, his lawyer said no. The trial continues on Monday.