Former cleaner linked to $40 million SkillsFuture scam jailed for money laundering

A SkillsFuture roadshow by the Workforce Development Agency. A crime syndicate used nine Singapore-registered firms in perpetrating a scam that targeted SkillsFuture Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A jobless man, who got involved with a crime syndicate that perpetrated what has been described as the largest case of fraud against a public institution in Singapore, was jailed on Tuesday (June 4).

Former cleaner Manickam Pragasam, 58, helped launder more than $1 million of nearly $40 million in criminal proceeds from the scam that targeted SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) which oversees an initiative aimed at promoting lifelong learning among Singaporeans.

He was sentenced to two years and nine months' jail after pleading guilty to three money laundering charges involving nearly $900,000. Two other charges linked to the remaining amount were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Under the SSG scheme, a Singapore business entity sending an employee for skills training courses with registered training providers can apply to SSG for a subsidy, provided certain conditions are met.

This subsidy comprises a portion of the total course fee paid to the training provider. Depending on the claim method used, subsidies are payable to either the training provider or the business entity.

The syndicate used nine Singapore-registered firms in perpetrating the scam. These nine dormant entities submitted a total of 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims to SSG between May and October 2017.

About $39.9 million was disbursed by SSG to the entities, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Ivan Chua.

The court was told that Manickam first met his alleged accomplice, Vincent Peter, 50, in 2011 and they became friends.

The DPP added that in September 2017, Vincent asked Manickam if he wanted to work for him. Manickam, who accepted the offer, was promised an unspecified sum.

Court documents showed that Vincent gave him two cheques for a total of $760,000 on Sept 12 that year and asked him to encash them at a Maybank outlet in Holland Village.

Manickam did as he was told and received $20 after giving $760,000 in cash to Vincent.

A week later, Manickam encashed a third cheque for $129,000 at a Maybank outlet in Ang Mo Kio before giving the money to Vincent. The three cheques were issued from the accounts of two firms - Kylin Consultants and KKL Firm.

DPP Chua said: "The accused had no knowledge of the companies issuing the cheques and he did not know anyone from these companies. The accused was not informed about the source of the funds but he did not ask Vincent where the funds came from.

"Despite these circumstances, which gave the accused reasonable grounds to believe that the encashed monies represented another person's benefits from criminal conduct, the accused willingly acceded to Vincent's instructions and encashed all the cheques, in return for financial gains."

SSG later found out that the nine companies had made an "abnormally high number" of course fee grant claim submissions, and it alerted the police on Nov 1, 2017.

Two other men linked to the scam - Lee Chi Wai, 32, and Roger Quek Si Guang, 33 - had earlier also been jailed for money laundering in connection with the case. Lee was sentenced to five years and eight months in November last year while Quek received 3½ years' jail in February.

A Chinese national was also jailed and fined for helping to remit to China nearly $400,000 in proceeds linked to the scam. In April, Tang Cheng, 45, was sentenced to six weeks' jail and a fine of $15,000 after pleading guilty to one count of carrying out a remittance business without a licence.

The cases involving Vincent and other alleged members of the syndicate are still pending.

Following the scam , SSG formed a dedicated fraud and enforcement division to monitor suspicious claims.

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