Loan shark runner jailed for ferrying $701,000 to Malaysia

Former private-hire car driver worked for syndicate when he could not repay his debts

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 have been removed from the country.

Singaporean Ong Chee Yong, 44, was sentenced to three years' jail and fined $150,000 yesterday 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.

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 collecting 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 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 he transported between $8,000 and $17,000 on each trip.

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 Filipina who has since moved to the United States. The couple divorced in 2014 and Ong's former wife "has nothing to do with the family any more".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2018, with the headline 'Loan shark runner jailed for ferrying $701,000 to Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe