Jail, fine for loan shark who preyed on Filipino maids

An illegal moneylender who targeted a niche market of vulnerable Filipino maids was jailed for 44 months and fined $450,000 in one of the biggest such prosecutions.

A district court heard that K. Ramakrishna Kannusamy, 47, who kept their passports and work passes as collateral, made about $100,000 in profits between 2014 and last year by charging 10 per cent 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 total of 181 charges. The remaining 160 charges, including 89 charges under the Moneylenders Act, were taken into consideration for sentencing.

In sentencing him last month, District Judge Salina Ishak ordered the sentences for six of the charges to run consecutively, "to accurately reflect the accused's overall culpability and the number of charges he faced, after a careful consideration of the aggravating factors".

The judge said that although he carried on a one-man operation, the scale of operations involving the large number of unique borrowers as well as the amount of loans granted showed "he was not a small-time moneylender, but he ran a sophisticated operation", in decision grounds issued on Tuesday.

Kannusamy had exploited a niche market of mainly Filipinas working in Singapore as maids who were unable to obtain loans through legal sources.

The illegal business stretched over seven years from 2009, when he was in a relationship with a Filipina known as "Mary Jane".

Mary Jane, then a maid, introduced him to several of her friends facing financial woes. He offered them loans and word soon spread, growing the debtors' pool.

The victims included a cash- strapped 41-year-old dental nurse who borrowed $2,500 last year on 20 per cent monthly interest and gave her passport as collateral.

Kannusamy admitted there were about 76 debtors when he was nabbed. All but one were Filipinos.

In addition to interest rates of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent per month, he charged a further $10 per day for late interest payments. His borrowers signed promissory notes and provided collateral in the form of passports or work passes.

When he was arrested on Feb 10 this year, police seized 68 Philippine passports and nine Singapore work permits and passports, among other items, from his Housing Board flat in Chai Chee Road.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhou Yihong pointed to Kannusamy's extensive operations aimed at a "vulnerable class" of borrowers who did not have ready access to legal sources of funds. The "standout" in the case was the "sheer number of charges" he faced. They involved 104 moneylending offences, 68 foreign passport-related offences, two Singapore passport offences and seven work pass-related offences.

She called for a deterrent sentence in line with Parliament's zero tolerance towards illegal moneylending.

Kannusamy's lawyer A. Revi Shanker urged the court to give him a "second chance", pleading that he was "sincerely remorseful".

The judge, who found "nothing exceptional" in Kannusamy's personal circumstances to justify a sentence discount, jailed him for nine months and imposed a $30,000 fine on him for each of the 15 moneylending charges.

She ordered four of the 15 jail terms to run consecutively and the rest, concurrently. In addition, he was jailed for six months for each of the five passport charges, with the first to run consecutively. She added a further two months in jail for possession of another's 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.

He is appealing against the sentence and is currently serving time in Changi Prison.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Jail, fine for loan shark who preyed on Filipino maids'. Print Edition | Subscribe