High Court raises jail terms of two foreign 'money-mules' who laundered $1.5m

The High Court on Monday raised the jail terms of two money-mules involved in one of the largest known money-laundering cases here, finding their existing sentences to be "manifestly inadequate".

Romanian Iosif Kiss, 40, and 37-year-old Frenchman David Weidmann were sentenced to 52 months' jail in total each, up from the 44 months the State Courts meted out last year for three money laundering charges brought under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

The duo had laundered $1.5 million - the proceeds of a transnational cheating scam.

Both were nabbed at Woodlands Checkpoint in September 2017 with more than $400,000 stashed in their underwear, after the authorities were alerted to their involvement to collect commission in a complex €7 million (S$11 million) deal to sell a sea-going vessel.

They were hired in August 2017 in Paris by a man named "Boris" to act as the buyer's agents, and collect and handle the commission for the deal in Singapore. Each was to be paid $5,000, and receive €2,000 in total for their expenses here.

After the sale went through in Paris, they received $1.5 million in commission from the Singapore broker's office. The broker later found out some of the cash paid by the buyer in Paris was counterfeit.

As instructed by "Boris", the pair handed about $1.08 million in a suitcase to Dutchman Predrag Nikolic at City Square Mall, and boarded a Malaysia-bound coach. But they were arrested at the checkpoint.

Predrag, 46, and his French relative Dalida Nikolic, 36, were each jailed for 2½ years last year for their role in the scam.

Kiss and Weidmann, who had pleaded guilty, appealed against their jail terms in the High Court where Weidmann's lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan urged parity as Predrag's sentence on appeal was cut by 10 months. The lawyer said the duo's sentence on the first charge involving the collection of $1.5 million should also be cut from 36 months to 26 months.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Randeep Singh Koonar and Ben Mathias Tan argued that a "clear signal needs to be sent that Singapore should not be seen as an attractive target for transnational crime, or a hub for money-laundering activity".

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng made clear "a foreigner who is in Singapore for the sole purpose of committing crime can expect a more severe sentence", which is an aggravating factor in this case.

The judge rejected the duo's claim they were "merely runners" and found they were "key participants" in the operation, pointing out there were clear differences and their overall culpability "far exceeds" that of Predrag and Dalida.

The judge raised Kiss and Weidmann's jail term for the first charge from 36 months to 44 months jail. The second and third charges remained at 30 months and eight months respectively. The sentences for the first and third charges are to run consecutively for a total of 52 months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 06, 2019, with the headline 'High Court raises jail terms of two foreign 'money-mules''. Print Edition | Subscribe