Former Spring Singapore exec gets four years' jail for duping agency of nearly $155,000

SINGAPORE - A former senior executive at Spring Singapore who duped the statutory board into disbursing nearly $155,000 and kept more than $77,000 was sentenced to four years' jail on Monday (March 18).

Leong Weng Cheou, 46, pleaded guilty in January to 18 counts of forgery and 12 cheating charges. Another 105 similar charges were taken into consideration during sentencing. He committed the offences in 2015 and 2016.

Spring Singapore has since been merged with International Enterprise Singapore, and the new agency is now known as Enterprise Singapore.

Before handing down the sentence, District Judge Mathew Joseph noted that Leong was the mastermind of the scam which involved "extensive planning".

The judge also said that Leong had abused the trust placed in him and had exploited the scheme for his own benefit.

The court heard that while Leong was at Spring Singapore, his duties included assessing applications and claims for the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV).

The vouchers, each worth $5,000, were given to small and medium-sized enterprises to encourage them to develop their capabilities in five categories - innovation, productivity, human resource, financial management and solutions.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew told the court at the previous 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. Once approval was given, an applicant could purchase the item or service 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 so that it would 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.

Said DPP Yew: "To carry out the plan, Leong engaged in four separate conspiracies with each of his four friends to register multiple shell business entities and forge supporting documents for the sole purpose of submitting fictitious ICV applications and claims to obtain the ICV (monies)."

In late 2017, Leong met his four friends as he knew that Spring Singapore's auditing processes would eventually uncover the ruse.

The court heard that Soh later consulted a lawyer and lodged a police report, admitting that she had conspired with Leong to cheat Spring Singapore.

In an earlier statement, Enterprise Singapore said: "We have put in place stringent controls covering the different stages of the grant process from vendor qualification and selection, to evaluation of application and authentication of applicants, to the verification of claim submission and disbursement.

"These are supplemented by regular audits and enhanced through data analytics for early fraud detection."

Its spokesman added that the agency continuously conducts reviews of its systems and processes to improve its fraud risk management system.

For each cheating charge, Leong could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined. The cases involving his four friends are still pending.

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