SINGAPORE - An illegal moneylender who serviced a niche market of vulnerable Filipino maids was jailed 44 months and fined $450,000 in one of the biggest illegal moneylending prosecutions here.
A District Court heard that K Ramakrishna Kannusamy, 47, who retained their passports and work passes as collateral, made substantial profits including about $100,000 between 2014 and 2015 by charging 10 to 20 per cent interest rates.
The Singapore permanent resident admitted to 15 charges of illegal moneylending, five charges under the Passport Act and one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
He faced a totalof 181 charges. Another 160 charges, including 89 charges under the Moneylenders Act, were taken into consideration for sentencing.
District Judge Salina Ishak ordered the sentences for six of the charges to run consecutively in order to accurately reflect Kannusamy's overall culpability and the number of charges he faced, and other factors.
"Although the accused carried on a one-man operation, his scale of operations, that is, the large number of unique borrowers as well as the amount of loans granted by the accused namely between $1,500 to $3,000 showed that he was not a small-time moneylender but he ran a sophisticated operation that granted loans of large amounts," she added in decision grounds issued on Tuesday (Dec 6).
The judge, noting the 104 charges of illegal moneylending he faced, said Kannusamy had targeted and exploited a niche market of mainly Filipinos working in Singapore as domestic helpers who were unable to obtain loans through legal sources.
"He had also kept a database of his borrowers on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, using his HP laptop and had also saved a back-up copy of the spreadsheet on his external hard drive. This spreadsheet, comprised of various columns setting out the borrowers' names, the borrowers' contact numbers, the names of the people who recommended that the borrowers take the loan from him, the loan amount, and the status of repayment," she said.
He conducted the illegal business over seven years, from 2009 when he was in a relationship with a Filipina known as "Mary Jane".
The business started after Mary Jane, then a domestic helper, introduced him to several of her friends facing financial problems.
He offered them loans with interest to earn extra income. Word soon spread and the pool of borrowers grew.
At the time of his arrest on Feb 10, Kannusamy had about 76 indebted borrowers. All but one were Philippines nationals.
The court heard he imposed interest rates of between 10-20 per cent per month for each loan and a further penalty of $10 per day for late interest payment. His borrowers had to sign promissory notes and provide collateral in the form of passports or work passes.
When he was arrested,police seized 68 Philippine passports, nine Singapore work permits and passports among other items from his HDB flat at Chai Chee Road.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhou Yihong pointed to his extensive operations, noting there were 76 unique borrowers with outstanding loans at the time he was nabbed.
She added he targeted a "vulnerable class" of borrowers who were in need of money but did not have ready access to legal sources of funds.
The "standout" in the case was the "sheer number of charges" he faced: 104 Moneylending offences, 68 Foreign Passport related offences, two Singapore passport offences and seven work pass related offences.
His lawyer, A Revi Shanker, urged the court to give him a "second chance," pleading his remorse and explaining he offered the loans to help domestic workers facing financial woes.
But the prosecution countered his aim was not to help but to profit from their personal circumstances.
DJ Salina, who found "nothing exceptional" in Kannusamy's personal circumstances to justify a sentence discount, jailed him nine months and slapped a $30,000 fine for each of the 15 moneylending charges.
She ordered four of the jail terms to run consecutively and the rest concurrently.
In addition he was jailed six months for each of the five passport charges with the first to run consecutively. She added a further two months jail for possession of a work pass.
His total sentence of 44 months was backdated to Feb 12, and he stands to serve another 15 months if he defaults on the $450,000 fine imposed by the court.
He is appealing the sentence and is currently serving time at Changi Prison.