Man appeals against conviction for misappropriating $81,000 from love scammer

SINGAPORE - A victim of a love scam, who sent $1,200 to a "woman" he met on the Internet, ended up being accused of misappropriating $81,000 from the online persona, who asked him to move the cash for her.

Raj Kumar Brisa Besnath was found guilty by a district court last year on a charge of criminal breach of trust (CBT) for pocketing the money that had been entrusted to him by one "Maria Lloyd", and was sentenced to 13 months' jail.

An investigation officer testified during his trial that the police believed Maria was a "phantom" and the people behind the transactions were a group of overseas scammers.

Raj Kumar's lawyer, appealing to the High Court on Wednesday (Jan 27) against the conviction, argued that the CBT charge has not been proven because Maria is a fictitious person.

"Where there is trickery involved, there is no true entrustment," Mr Anand George argued.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Stacey Fernandez noted that "this is not the typical case of criminal breach of trust".

However, she argued that under Section 405 of the Penal Code, there was no requirement to prove the actual identity of the person who is entrusting the property.

Justice Vincent Hoong said he will consider the "interesting" arguments and give his decision at a later date.

According to Raj Kumar, he started communicating with Maria by e-mail in 2012 and he became interested in her. He said he remitted $1,200 to her after she asked for money to meet him in Singapore.

She did not come to Singapore and instead asked him for another $2,000 but he did not send her any more money, he said.

Maria later e-mailed him to say she was in Malaysia and asked him to receive a sum of money on her behalf. Raj Kumar was told to collect the cash from another person in Singapore and then take it to Malaysia.

On March 9, 2013, Raj Kumar met the intermediary, Melody Choong, at a taxi stand at the NEX shopping mall in Serangoon.

Choong, a money mule who was working for an online persona known as Jacques Chicoine, handed Raj Kumar an envelope.

Choong, who has since served a six-month jail term for money laundering offences, testified that the envelope contained $81,000 in $1,000 notes.

Choong had earlier collected the envelope from Sie Min Jeong, who received the funds in his bank account from another online persona known as Maureen Othman.

Sie made a police report on March 24, 2013, after the bank told him he needed to return the funds to the remitter as it had been wrongly credited.

But Raj Kumar claimed that the envelope contained a stack of dollar-note-sized paper. He said he thought he had been tricked and no longer trusted Maria.

However, he kept up a charade for several months, lying to Choong and Maria to give the impression that he had been caught at the checkpoint, that the money had been seized by the authorities, and he had to be bailed out and attend court.

In a judgment in April last year, a district judge found Raj Kumar's version of events to be "illogical, if not incredible" and concluded that he had concocted false stories to deflect attention away from his pocketing the money.

The district judge said that if he had really received blank pieces of paper, his first suspicion would be that Choong had taken the money, and not that he had been tricked by Maria.

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