Jail for illegal moneylender who offered loans to maids at 5 times the legal interest rate

SINGAPORE - An illegal moneylender gave a total of $8,400 in loans to at least 19 Filipino domestic workers and charged an interest rate of 20 per cent a month, five times the legal maximum rate.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Pavithra Ramkumar said the interest rate was exorbitant, with the maximum rate prescribed under the Moneylenders Rules 2009 at only 4 per cent.

Tan Boon Teck, who earned up to $1,500 a month from his moneylending business, committed the offences even though he knew that giving monetary loans without a licence is illegal in Singapore.

He also scolded and hurled vulgarities at debtors who failed to repay their loans.

The 61-year-old Singaporean was sentenced on Wednesday (Nov 25) to two years and six weeks' jail and a fine of $240,000 after pleading guilty to eight counts of unlawfully operating a moneylending business involving $3,900.

He will spend an additional 16 weeks behind bars if he is unable to pay the fine.

Ten other charges linked to the remaining amount were considered during sentencing. He committed his offences between 2017 and last year.

Tan had roped in his Filipino girlfriend, domestic worker Shirley Cansino Eustaquio, to help him pass the loans to debtors and collect repayments.

For her role in the offences, she was earlier sentenced to eight weeks' jail and fined $60,000. She has since been repatriated to her home country.

DPP Pavithra said Tan would usually remain in the vicinity of either Takashimaya, Ion Orchard or Lucky Plaza Shopping Centre on Sundays to extend new loans to new debtors and collect loan repayments from existing debtors.

She added that Tan was known to his debtors by several names, including "Uncle" or "Kuya" - Tagalog for "older brother".

In June 2017, a Filipino maid met Tan and Eustaquio near Ngee Ann City as she wanted to borrow $500 for her grandchild's medical expenses.

The maid, who earned $700 a month, then received $400 in cash from Tan and was told that $100 had been deducted from the loan amount as "interest".

Tan also told her that she had to repay the loan in monthly instalments of $100, failing which a $50 late fee would be applied.

"Whenever (she) was late to make repayments, the accused would call her and shout at her over the phone, which scared her," said the DPP.

The maid stopped making repayments in December 2018. By then, she had paid Tan a total of $1,500.

From then until last year, Tan targeted other maids and also gave them loans with high interest rates.

In an earlier statement, police said that they received information about Tan in November 2018. He was arrested on May 12 last year.

On Wednesday, District Judge Marvin Bay said: "There is a need for the court to curb illegal moneylending, which is an unquestionably lucrative activity where offenders hope to net enormous gains from relatively modest outlays of cash.

"I do note that the loans were disbursed to foreign domestic workers who would be a vulnerable class of persons with limited means of obtaining credit and who would be susceptible to exploitation if they resorted to illegal moneylenders to meet financial exigencies due to family crises such as medical expenses for relatives in their home country."

First-time offenders convicted of carrying on an unlicensed moneylending business can be jailed for up to four years and fined between $30,000 and $300,000.

They can also receive up to six strokes of the cane. Tan cannot be caned as he is over 50 years old.

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