Ex-Spring S'pore exec jailed over scam

A former senior executive of Spring Singapore, who duped the statutory board into disbursing nearly $155,000 and kept over $77,000 of the monies, was given a four-year jail sentence yesterday.

Leong Weng Cheou pleaded guilty in January to 18 counts of forgery and 12 cheating charges. Another 105 similar charges were considered during sentencing. He committed the crimes in 2015 and 2016.

Spring Singapore has since been merged with International Enterprise Singapore, with the new agency named Enterprise Singapore.

Before handing down the sentence, District Judge Mathew Joseph said Leong, 46, was the mastermind of the scam which involved "extensive planning". The judge said Leong had abused the trust placed in him and exploited the scheme for his own benefit.

The court heard that Leong's duties at Spring Singapore included assessing applications and claims for the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme.

The vouchers, each worth $5,000, were given to small and medium-sized enterprises to develop their capabilities.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew said at an earlier court hearing that the ICV scheme operated on a "reimbursement basis". Applications were submitted online to obtain Spring Singapore's approval to buy an item or service from a solution provider, he said.

Each application had to be accompanied by documents, including a quotation from the solution provider. When approved, the applicant could make the purchase before submitting a claim to Spring Singapore for a disbursement of funds.

Each claim had to be accompanied by an invoice and a proof of payment from the solution provider. Applicants would receive the disbursement after Spring Singapore approved the claims.

In 2015, Leong hatched a plan to defraud the agency by using false documents for it to disburse money to shell business entities.

He roped in four Singaporean friends - Lionel Wong Yong Jun, 35; Soh Eng Luan, 38; Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, 41; and Wong Ping Ling, 44 - to take part in the scam.

In late 2017, Leong talked to them about returning the cash, as he knew Spring Singapore's auditing processes would eventually uncover the ruse. Soh consulted a lawyer and made a police report.

Enterprise Singapore had said stringent controls covering the different stages of the grant process have been put in place. "These are supplemented by regular audits and enhanced through data analytics for early fraud detection."

The cases involving Leong's four friends are pending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Ex-Spring S'pore exec jailed over scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe