Keppel Club exec accused of selling phantom memberships to 1,341 buyers over 11 years

Irene Setho Oi Lin, 69, purportedly abetted her colleagues to make fraudulent entries in Keppel Club’s electronic membership database to create these phantom memberships. PHOTO: SHIN MIN

SINGAPORE - A senior executive who headed the membership department of Singapore's oldest country club allegedly sold fraudulent memberships to 1,341 buyers between 2004 and 2014, a court heard.

Irene Setho Oi Lin, 69, purportedly abetted her colleagues in making fraudulent entries in Keppel Club's electronic membership database to create the phantom memberships.

She also allegedly told the buyers to make payments into the bank accounts of money mules, who would then pass her cash.

On Tuesday (Nov 8), the prosecution tendered 60 charges against Setho in the State Courts - 20 each for cheating, falsification of records, and receiving the benefits of criminal conduct.

The sum involved in the cheating charges amounted to $393,800.

No plea was taken from Setho, who showed no expression from her wheelchair. She was accompanied in court by two unknown people.

The prosecution said a total of 3,181 charges will be tendered against Setho and requested more time to prepare the remaining charges.

The case will be mentioned again on Dec 6. Setho is out on bail of $300,000.

In September last year, the High Court ordered a freeze on the assets of Setho and two alleged accomplices, for up to the value of $19.28 million.

Keppel, which celebrated its 112th anniversary in August, was rocked in 2014 by revelations of the fraud, which led to the sacking of Setho, who started as a clerk in 1966 and rose to supervise its membership department.

In November that year, the club appointed the DHA+pac firm to conduct forensic investigations into areas including the modus operandi and extent of the fraud, as well as the potential damage and loss suffered by the club.

Some $37.3 million was said to have been lost as a result of the fraud. The estimate was calculated based on the rolling average of historically transacted prices of the club's memberships.

Applicants who sought to join the club were directed to Setho, who would prepare a form with the genuine details of the applicant. But when it came to details of the person transferring his or her club membership, she would allegedly fill in a fabricated name, or the data of former members instead. She would also purportedly fabricate a signature for the purported transferer.

The club stopped issuing new memberships in 1996, but a membership could be bought from someone willing to sell his membership through the club.

Keppel is also suing Setho, four others, and two firms to account for the damages. The civil suit is due to start in July next year in the High Court, with 38 days set aside for hearing.

Among the other people being sued are Setho's husband Laurence Ng and her younger brother Philip Setho Wai Meng.

Setho has filed a counterclaim against the club for wrongful dismissal and lost wages.

Signs that something was amiss first emerged when Setho, who oversaw the membership department for more than 30 years, expressed strong resistance when Keppel's management suggested in 2013 that someone understudy her. She was already 62 years old in 2009.

She reluctantly agreed, but insisted on retaining control over membership transfers, claiming the complex job would require at least two years for her successor to take over. The club then promoted an assistant manager in July 2014 to understudy her.

But the assistant uncovered irregularities in the membership records. Among other things, she found two membership files that were started in 2014, but had no records of payment of transfer fees in relation to the purported membership transfers. The signatures of the purported transferers were also strikingly identical.

She also found that the names and details of these supposed members were not in the club's membership database.

Discreet checks and prompt internal investigations followed.

When queried by the general manager on the irregularities in nine membership files which showed no record of transfer fee payment, Setho failed to give a proper explanation.

Within the next few days, the club received seven cashier's orders and two cheques for the purported payment not recorded in the nine membership files which the alleged culprit was asked about earlier.

But four of the cashier's orders had consecutive reference numbers, suggesting that they were issued by the same person. The orders were also issued days after the suspect was first queried by the general manager. The club later lodged a police report.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.