Magnets used to tamper with equipment on ships off S'pore in scheme to cheat oil buyers

The scheme took place on two bunker barges in various instances between October 2018 and April 2019. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A criminal scheme involving nine men saw magnets being used to tamper with equipment on ships supplying marine fuel oil to other vessels.

The magnets caused the devices - known as mass flow meters - to wrongly record the amount of fuel transferred to the buyers.

Fuel buyers were cheated of nearly US$337,000 (S$457,500) worth of oil in total, the Attorney-General's Chambers, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the Singapore Police Force said in a joint statement on Thursday (Sept 30).

The nine men involved in the scheme - Tay Tien Whui; Ang Heng Lye; Kek Kah Hui; Ang Heng Chye; Stanley Heng Meng Wee; Lionel Leong Wai Chew; Gab Chua Yan Jing; Kek Kah Hee; and Andy Chua Yew Hui - have been convicted and sentenced.

The scheme took place on two bunker barges in various instances between October 2018 and April 2019. Bunker barges are ships that operate like mobile petrol kiosks, refuelling other vessels in open seas.

It involved placing industrial-strength magnets on the mass flow meters in the ships and securing them with tape of the same colour as the devices.

The magnets would affect the mass flow meters, resulting in them erroneously recording a greater amount of fuel transferred into a receiving vessel than what was actually supplied.

Court documents state that the scheme was intended to help Newocean Fuel (Singapore), a fuel supplier that chartered the bunker barges, to "save" on the oil by delivering smaller amounts than what was contractually agreed with its buyers.

It was masterminded by Tay, Ang Heng Lye and Kek Kah Hui.

Tay, 40, was the director and sole shareholder of another company, Success Energy Service. Ang Heng Lye, 50, was its consultant and partner.

The company had supplied its personnel, known as cargo officers, to manage bunkering operations on the two ships in June 2018.

A third company, Urban Energy, took over the operations on the bunker barges around July 2018. Kek Kah Hui, 39, was a director in the firm.

Tay, Ang Heng Lye and Kek Kah Hui roped in four other members of the group - Ang Heng Chye, 58; Heng, 39; Leong, 40; and Gab Chua - to place the magnets on the devices during various bunkering operations.

The four men were working as cargo officers at the time. Ang Heng Chye is Ang Heng Lye's brother.

Gab Chua's current age is unclear, but he was 37 when he pleaded guilty to his offences last year.

The cargo officers would inform Kek Kah Hui via text messages about the amount of fuel "saved" each time.

His brother, Kek Kah Hee, 43, who worked at Urban Energy, would assign bunkering operations on the two ships to Heng or Ang Heng Chye.

The remaining member, Andy Chua, a Grab driver at the time of the offences, took over Heng's job on several occasions at Heng's request, and also tampered with the mass flow meters. He was 29 when he pleaded guilty last year.

Except for Kek Kah Hee, each man received a commission for their role in the scheme. The money came from Newocean Fuel, which would transfer the funds to Kek Kah Hui.

The scheme was uncovered after an MPA port inspector discovered a magnet attached to the mass flow meter on one of the bunker barges on April 19, 2019.

Court documents state that Tay and Ang Heng Lye also conspired with another man, Qie Yanpeng, to retrieve and destroy Kek Kah Hui's work laptop on May 9, 2019.

They believed it contained information that could incriminate Kek Kah Hui, who was under arrest at the time.

Qie, 53, was working at Newocean Fuel at the time.

The group - excluding Qie - were dealt with in court between last year and this year.

Ang Heng Lye was sentenced to jail for two years and 11 months, Tay for two years, 10 months and two weeks, and Kek Kah Hui for two years and 10 months.

The remaining six were given jail terms ranging from two weeks to a year and seven months.

Qie faces three charges, including one count of conspiring with Tay and Ang Heng Lye to intentionally obstruct the course of justice. His case is pending.

Court documents do not state if Newocean Fuel has been dealt with or charged over the scheme.

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