First person jailed over $40m SkillsFuture scam; helped sister hide $6.7m at home

A SkillsFuture roadshow by the Workforce Development Agency. A man who helped his sister and brother-in-law launder and hide part of the proceeds of their $40 million SkillsFuture scam was sentenced to five years and eight months' jail on Nov 27, 201
A SkillsFuture roadshow by the Workforce Development Agency. A man who helped his sister and brother-in-law launder and hide part of the proceeds of their $40 million SkillsFuture scam was sentenced to five years and eight months' jail on Nov 27, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A jobless man who helped his sister and brother-in-law launder and hide part of the proceeds of their $40 million SkillsFuture scam - the largest case of a government agency being defrauded - was sentenced to five years and eight months' jail on Tuesday (Nov 27).

Lee Chi Wai, 32, had helped squirrel away $6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold valued at $626,500 at his Sengkang flat.

He also used $282,500 to buy 5kg of gold and asked his sister for a $30,000 loan to buy a car for himself.

Lee is the first of five people charged in court over the scam last year to be sentenced.

The cases against his sister Lee Lai Leng, 40, her husband Ng Cheng Kwee, 42, the Lee siblings' mother Tan Yoon Nooi, 60, and Ng's friend David Lim Wee Hong, 40, are pending.

Ng is alleged to be the mastermind of the scam which netted nearly $40 million in fake claims from SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), a government agency that gives out grants and funding for lifelong training.

 
 
 

Between May and October last year, the syndicate used a network of nine dormant entities - three training providers and six applicant entities - to submit 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims to SSG.

The applications and claims were submitted on the basis that training courses were purportedly provided by the three training providers to about 25,000 employees of the six applicant entities.

As a result, SSG disbursed $39.9 million in course fee subsidies.

Ng, Lee Lai Leng and others are alleged to have submitted the fraudulent applications and claims via SSG’s online portal, SkillsConnect, using the SingPass credentials of various people, including their own.

Lee pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges of acquiring another person’s benefits from criminal conduct and one charge of concealing another person’s benefits from criminal conduct.

He admitted that in July last year, his sister had asked him for details of his bank account and that of their parents’, saying that she had to park money with them because she “cannot have money” in hers.

After she told Lee she would transfer $49,950 to him, he told her to transfer “bit by bit” and cautioned that there would be an audit trail.

In September last year, Lee Lai Leng handed him a bag of cash containing $930,000 for safe-keeping. He brought the money home and kept it in a drawer.

Meanwhile, Lee realised that his sister and her husband were getting increasingly wealthy.

The couple, whose flat had been repossessed after Ng’s coffee shop business failed, began driving a second-hand Mercedes and were looking to buy a new home. 

Lee also found out that the couple were in the process of withdrawing at least $1.4 million from the bank.

On Sept 9, she transferred $30,000 to him after he asked for a loan to buy a car for himself.

Around the same time, she arranged for a safe to be delivered to his Sengkang flat. Between September and October last year,  she made several visits to his flat, placing large amounts of cash in the safe.

Over two days, on Oct 30 and 31, Lee Lai Leng went on a shopping spree at two jewellery shops in People’s Park Complex, picking up 6kg of gold.

She also instructed Lee to collect another five 1kg gold bars, for which he paid $252,000 out of the money she handed him.

By Nov 1, there were $6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold valued at $626,500 in the safe.

But on the same day, Lee received a call from his sister, who sounded flustered as she told him to empty the contents of the safe and pass the contents to someone else for safekeeping.

He then placed most of the cash and gold in a black duffel bag and a suitcase, leaving $50,000 and some commemorative coins inside.

After Lee took the bags to a friend’s home, his sister then told him to format his phone and his parents’ phone. 

He deleted his WhatsApp conversations with her but did not format his phone.

The next day, the siblings were arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department.

Lee eventually disclosed the location of the cash and gold and the police seized them  from the home of Lee’s friend, as well as the remaining contents of the safe.

On Tuesday, Lee’s lawyer, Mr Gino Hardial Singh, said he knew something was wrong but he did not know the extent of what his sister did. 

The lawyer said his client was motivated not by personal gain but by blind trust and in deference to his sister, and that he has since made restitution of $30,000 in relation to the loan.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ivan Chua argued that this had little mitigating weight as full restitution was made only last Friday. 

Lack of knowledge was also not a mitigating factor, said the DPP.