Ex-bank clerk gets 13½ years for cheating 18 victims of $11.4m

SINGAPORE - For three years, a former bank clerk ran a Ponzi scheme based on foreign currency exchanges.

Even after police started investigating in 2015, Ariffin Chewing continued to deceive his victims. In all, Ariffin swindled 18 people of $11.4 million in a scheme that ran from 2012 to 2015.

On Thursday (Feb 22), the 48-year-old was sentenced to a total of 13½ years' jail after admitting to 21 charges, including one of converting the benefits of his criminal conduct - $137,400 - to partially pay for his Housing Board flat.

Part of his ruse involved convincing his victims that he could get advantageous rates for foreign currencies as a Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) employee. He would even show the victims his HSBC staff card to lure them in.

In fact, his services at the bank had been terminated earlier, in January 2012.

But people were convinced. His victims included a 70-year-old businessman who was cheated of $4.1 million and the man's nephew who was duped into handing over $1 million.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Alexander Woon told the court that Ariffin's victims would deliver Singapore dollars to him in cash after he told them that he could return their capital, and the profit made from the exchange into foreign currencies, in a month or two.

Initially, the victims received the full amounts that they were promised, as Ariffin was able to route them money received from other victims.

At some point, he convinced some to leave their returns with him to roll over into new investments. He then told them that he was maintaining accounts on their behalf, and their investments were earning further profits.

DPP Woon said these profits were entirely fictitious, and Ariffin had used some of the money for personal expenses, including the purchase and renovation of his HDB flat.

In 2014, things started to fall apart and Ariffin could no longer repay his victims fully. But he continued to deceive the victims, collecting more money in a bid to prolong the life of his scheme, said DPP Woon.

Between July 7, 2015, and April 12, 2016, 14 police reports were lodged against him.

Seeking a sentence of at least 14 years' jail to be imposed, DPP Woon said the harm caused by Ariffin was serious and his culpability was high. He said the amount involved was large; there were multiple victims; and the scam took place over a long period; and Ariffin showed little remorse.

Of the $11.4 million Ariffin took, $4.3 million were returned to the victims. The amount unaccounted for is about $7.1 million.