Jail for money mule who transported $701,000 of ill-gotten gains to Malaysia

SINGAPORE - A former private-hire car driver made at least 86 trips from Singapore to Malaysia to illegally transport cash totalling $701,000 for an unlicensed moneylending syndicate.

The court heard that this is the highest known amount of cash linked to criminal proceeds to ever be removed from the country.

Singaporean Ong Chee Yong, 44, was sentenced to three years' jail and fined $150,000 on Friday (Aug 10) after pleading guilty to 15 counts of dealing with the proceeds of criminal conduct involving $133,000.

As he was unable to pay the fine, he has to spend an additional five months behind bars.

Another 71 charges for similar offences linked to the remaining amount were considered during sentencing. Ong had also admitted to five counts of assisting in unlicensed moneylending activities.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee said that Ong started borrowing money from a loan shark, who operated under the name "Tristan", when he was facing financial difficulties in 2012.

DPP Kee added: "The accused had chalked up debts from gambling losses incurred personally as well as by his ex-wife, in addition to household expenses and credit card bills."

Ong borrowed money from Tristan several times up to 2015, when he was no longer able to repay his debts.

In mid-2015, Tristan approached Ong and asked if he wanted to work as a runner for the syndicate. Ong was told that his total debt would be capped at $36,000 without further interest being charged, and he would also be given a monthly salary of $3,000.

Ong agreed to work for Tristan, and did so until his arrest on March 25 last year. He managed to earn about $63,000 while working for the syndicate, the court heard.

DPP Kee said that Ong's job was to meet other runners in Singapore to collect various sums of monies. He was also told to travel to Malaysia after collating the cash.

The monies would then be delivered to another runner known only as Ah Seng.

In January last year, Ong started working for another unlicensed moneylender called Anthony for a monthly salary of $2,000.

His job scope included collecting ATM cards from various debtors and performing electronic banking transactions using the cards.

DPP Kee said that between Jan 25, 2016, and March 18 last year, Ong made multiple trips to Malaysia to transport the ill-gotten gains, totalling $701,000. The DPP added that Ong admitted that in each trip, he transported between $8,000 and $17,000.

Ong was represented by lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong from Invictus Law Corporation.

In their mitigation plea, they said that their client turned to loan sharks as he was saddled with debts from the gambling habits of his then wife, a Filipino woman who has since moved to the United States.

The lawyers added: "He used his legitimate credit facilities to repay these gambling debts but, alas, it was a neverending cycle of debts."

The couple divorced in 2014 and Ong's former wife "has nothing to do with the family anymore".