Man gets 28 months' jail for funnelling $56,900 to syndicate

Between March 20 and March 22 (2017), three victims received calls from several people who said they were from the China Police Force or Singapore Police Force.
Between March 20 and March 22 (2017), three victims received calls from several people who said they were from the China Police Force or Singapore Police Force.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - A man acted as a runner for a syndicate by allowing it to deposit $56,900 into his bank account, and later converted the cash into Alipay credits, part of which he deposited into an unknown bank account and used some of it to gamble.

On Thursday (Aug 17), Zhang Mingwei, 23, a Chinese national, was sentenced to 28 months' jail after he admitted to abetting with an unknown person who claimed he was a China Interpol officer, although he had reason to believe the arrangement involved criminal conduct.

Alipay is an online payment system owned by China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba, through which users can buy credits to spend with merchants who have Alipay accounts.

Between March 20 and March 22 (2017), three victims received calls from several people who said they were from the China Police Force or Singapore Police Force.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min said the callers convinced them that they were involved in either money laundering cases or some other serious offences in China. They threatened the victims, saying they would be prosecuted unless they cooperated with the callers' instructions and the ongoing "police investigations".

The callers are believed to be part of a syndicate.

Tricked into believing that the callers were the police, and that they needed to conduct investigations into their bank accounts, the victims were duped into revealing the log-in credentials of their Internet banking accounts, and the one-time-passwords.

Later, the three male victims reported that $14,500, $35,500 and $6,900 had been electronically transferred out from each of their bank accounts.

That money, which added up to $56,900, was deposited into Zhang's DBS Bank account between March 20 and March 22.

Zhang used the QQ Forum platform to send a message to get a loan from someone who claimed to be a China Interpol officer, the court heard earlier.

The fake Interpol officer called Zhang on his mobile phone and said he had a "job" for him.

Zhang agreed to give the suspect his Singapore bank account number and later, converted the money deposited into his account into Alipay credits in return for a $450 commission.

The suspect gave Zhang an e-mail address linked to an Alipay account, to which the Alipay credits could be charged.

The court heard that Zhang had reason to believe that the "job" did not actually entail helping the "officer" to do legitimate police work, but had something to do with illegally laundered funds.

Zhang converted $31,185 of the money from the victims into Alipay credits. He also remitted $10,000 to a bank account on March 22, as instructed by the suspect.

On March 21 and March 22, Zhang withdrew $12,562 from his bank account and used it to gambled at Marina Bay Sands casino.

When the suspect found out about this, he threatened to kill Zhang if he did not return the money. He told Zhang to deposit the money he had left - $3,000 in cash - back into his DBS bank account and not touch it again. Zhang complied.

Ms Thiam asked Zhang be given at least 28 months' jail, saying he was motivated by a promise of a reward and acted with wilful disregard. She also said he had the audacity to gamble away a large part of the money.

She said: "Police impersonation scam cases are notoriously difficult to investigate as they involve transnational syndicates, operating from abroad, and these syndicates make use of runners to carry out their tasks."

There were 487 reported cases involving the "China officials (police) impersonation scams" up to the end of 2016, and the total amount cheated was $23 million, the prosecuter added.

District Judge Kenneth Yap said an offence such as this should be punished with a deterrent sentence, especially as the amount of money involved in this case was significant.

Zhang, whose sentence was backdated to March 29, could have been fined up to $500,000 and/or jailed for up to 10 years.