Four foreigners jailed for stealing more than $120,000 from Mustafa Centre money changer

SINGAPORE - Three Mexicans and a Chilean, who stole over $120,000 in foreign currencies from a money changer at Mustafa Centre earlier in 2015, were on Friday (Dec 18) jailed between 20 and 22 months.

(Clockwise) Salgado Sida Jesus Alfonso, Chavez Gomez Joel, Petrovich Petrovich Yobano and Olvera Ochoa Laura Daniela. PHOTO: SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

Mexicans Chavez Gomez Joel, 35, Salgado Sida Jesus Alfonso, 59, Olvera Ochoa Laura Daniela, 30, and Chilean Petrovich Petrovich Yobano, 46, all pleaded guilty to a charge of theft.

Joel, a construction worker; Alfonso, a food vendor; and Yobano, a scaffolding agent, also admitted to a count of taking the stolen money out of Singapore.

A district court heard that on Aug 12, 2015, the four took a flight from Laos to Singapore. Also on the flight with them was an accomplice, Martinez Moreno Jesus Manuel, 38.

Upon arrival, they went to Mustafa Centre, each having an assigned role to play in an elaborate plan to steal from the money changer there.

Manuel had briefed them separately on the plan, as well as their respective roles.

At about 7.15pm, Joel, who was tasked with keeping watch over the money changer's counters as well as observing the staff, saw that a money changer was packing her daily takings of foreign currencies, amounting to $122,424.05, into a plastic bag.

She passed it to a colleague, who then placed the package on a shelf at his counter, near the entrance of the money changer's premises.

At about 7.50pm, just as the staff left to use the toilet, Manuel went to the metal grille door of the money changer's premises, and placed something on the door to prevent it from shutting completely. The door uses a magnetic locking system.

He then went to distract a money changer nearby, by directing him to proceed to a counter further away. Manuel held a $2 note with his fingers pointing down as he spoke to the staff.

Alfonso and Yobano took the cue and distracted two other money changers at other counters, engaging them in conversation. Daniela, meanwhile, stood near the metal grille door and, through hand gestures, told Joel to walk over.

He opened the door, stretched out his hand, and took the plastic bag containing the money from the shelf.

The five foreign thieves then made their way to an unknown hotel to split their loot.

Manuel gave a part of the sum to Joel, Alfonso and Yobano. Joel received about $17,000 in foreign currencies, while Alfonso got about $21,000. Yobano's cut was about $15,500.

At about 8pm, the Mustafa Centre staff returned from the toilet to find the money missing, and the police were alerted to the theft at about 8.50pm.

The five thieves boarded a flight to Kuala Lumpur at about 12.20pm the next day.

On Aug 21, Joel, Alfonso, Daniela and Yobano were arrested by Malaysian police while trying to board a flight to Hong Kong. They were taken to Singapore, escorted by Singapore police, the next day.

In arguing for at least 30 months' jail for the four, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Lee said the offences committed "involved a high level of premeditation".

"The accused persons were part of a syndicate which had targeted the Mustafa money changer in a highly coordinated fashion."

It was also clear from their short stay here that they had "planned to strike hard and fast and then make a swift getaway", he said.

In mitigation, defence lawyer S.K. Kumar, who was jointly appointed by the families of the four, asked for four months' jail for Daniela and six months' jail for the rest.

He told the court that full restitution had also been made by his clients' families.

Passing sentence, District Judge Adam Nakhoda agreed with the prosecution that foreigners who come to Singapore for the sole purpose of committing crimes have to be severely dealt with.

"A strong message has to be sent. We cannot tolerate foreigners who come to Singapore solely for committing crimes," he said.

Daniela was jailed for 20 months, while Joel, Alfonso and Yobano were sentenced to 22 months' imprisonment. Manuel remains at large.

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