Ex-admin director of Catholic Spirituality Centre who embezzled over $600k jailed

Francis Xavier Wan Kwong Yee pleaded guilty to three forgery charges and 10 counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating.
Francis Xavier Wan Kwong Yee pleaded guilty to three forgery charges and 10 counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Consumed by greed, an administration director of the Catholic Spirituality Centre (CSC) embezzled more than $600,000 by, among other things, forging the organisation's cheques.

Francis Xavier Wan Kwong Yee, 66, who held the position from 2004 to 2014, was sentenced on Wednesday (March 13) to four years and four months' jail.

The full-time volunteer at CSC, who is no longer with the organisation, pleaded guilty to three forgery charges and 10 counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating. He also admitted to one count each of criminal breach of trust and cheating.

Twenty-nine other charges were considered during sentencing. He committed his offences between 2009 and 2014.

The court heard that CSC, which has its office in Upper Serangoon Road, is an establishment within the Titular Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore (TRCAS).

Like its parent organisation, CSC, which provides services such as prayer retreats and evangelical missions, is also a charity.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lim said CSC is funded through tithes and donations from church members as well as members of the public.

As the administration director, Wan oversaw CSC's daily operations and was responsible for overseeing its accounts staff. He also had the authority to prepare cheques and arrange payments to vendors.

DPP Lim said Wan forged three CSC cheques for $370,000 in total between July 27, 2010 and Sept 26, 2014 and the monies were credited to his personal bank account.

To commit these offences, he firstly stated TRCAS as the payee but would deliberately make a minor mistake in spelling its name. Wan would then rectify the error and get the authorised signatories to countersign against the correction.

The DPP added: "After the signatories signed on the cheque and countersigned against the correction, he cancelled the entire name of TRCAS and wrote his own name as payee beside the countersignature, to make it seem as though the countersignature was for the amendment of TRCAS' name to his name as payee."

Besides this, Wan also unlawfully obtained cash through other methods such as altering more cheques.

His offences came to light on Nov 28, 2014 when one of the authorised signatories, Father Jude David, received a call from DBS to verify if CSC had issued a cheque for $100,000 originally made payable to TRCAS but which was altered to show Wan as the new payee.

Father David then told the bank to stop the payment and confronted Wan, who admitted he had forged the cheque. The police were later alerted, the court heard.

DPP Li said CSC lost $600,246 as a result of the offences. He added that Wan made voluntary restitution of $300,000 before the police were alerted. The remaining losses of $300,246 will be covered by the funds found in one of Wan's bank accounts.

The DPP told District Judge Mathew Joseph: "Xavier Wan admitted to the police that he was neither in debt nor had any specific purpose for the proceeds of crime, but committed the offences out of greed and temptation."

 

Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim told the court on Wednesday that church elders had asked him to represent Wan pro bono.

SC Yim asked Judge Joseph to "temper justice with mercy" and added that Wan had fully cooperated with the police.

In a statement on Wednesday, CSC told The Straits Times that immediate safeguards had been put in place after it discovered the misappropriation.

These included bringing in forensic auditors to investigate the full extent of the misappropriation and appointing external professionals to review and tighten existing procedures to prevent any recurrence. Wan was also suspended from his duties on Dec 26, 2014.

The CSC spokesman added: "We see this incident as a moment of grace and not disgrace. While CSC expects justice to be done, we believe justice should always be tempered by compassion. This is central to the Christian attitude towards sinners and offenders."

Wan is now out on bail of $60,000 and was ordered to surrender himself at the State Courts on Friday to begin serving his sentence.

For each count of committing forgery to cheat, he could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.