Man jailed after withdrawing over $26k from bank accounts; monies traced to US fraud victims

SINGAPORE – In exchange for at least $100, Bhambri Kunal withdrew cash totalling more than $26,000 from Singapore bank accounts, which were sums later traced to three fraud victims in the United States.

On Wednesday, the 26-year-old Indian national, who first came to Singapore in 2018 to study, was jailed for nine weeks after he pleaded guilty to three counts of dealing with the benefits of criminal conduct.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Seah Ee Wei said that between February 2021 and March the same year, Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department received information on fraudulent transfers involving three fraud victims in the US.

The first victim, Ms Kay Kovaleski, had filed a report with her country’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on Feb 10, 2021.

She said she had been duped into wiring US$29,500 (S$39,000 according to court documents) to a bank account in Singapore belonging to a man called Rahul Kumar.

Thirteen days later, the second victim, Ms Kimberly Lynn Mole, told the Santa Maria Police Department in California that she was deceived into wiring US$32,620 to a Singapore bank account belonging to one Brar Vishavjeet.

The third victim, Mr Thomas Sabatino, filed a report with the Singapore Police Force on March 19, 2021, stating that he had been duped into wiring US$46,000 to a bank account in Singapore linked to one Lakhwinder Singh.

The DPP said: “Kovaleski had transferred the monies induced by a false representation that she had to return erroneous funds sent to her for a computer installation service... Mole had transferred the monies induced by a false representation.

“Sabatino surrendered control of his computer after being induced by a false representation that he had to return excess refunds sent to him for a tech support contract. The perpetrator then used the control to make the unauthorised wire transfer.”

Court documents did not disclose how they discovered that they were victims of a ruse.

Meanwhile, Bhambri had befriended three Indian nationals identified as Rahul, Simar and Nayak Isha, said defence lawyer S.S. Dhillon.

The lawyer added that in early 2021, Rahul and Simar asked Bhambri to help them withdraw monies from local bank accounts by using automated teller machine cards. Bhambri agreed to help them.

Between Feb 9 and March 3, 2021, he made withdrawals of more than $26,000 from bank accounts that did not belong to him.

After that, he passed the cash to Rahul, Simar and Nayak Isha. Court documents did not disclose their whereabouts.

These monies were later established to be part of the ill-gotten gains obtained from the American fraud victims.

The DPP told the court: “(Bhambri)... did not check the names on the accounts before withdrawing the money. He admitted to knowing that it was wrong and illegal to withdraw money from other people’s bank accounts but continued to do so.”

On Wednesday, Mr Dhillon said that his client was called up for investigations on April 27, 2021.

He added: “(Bhambri) became acquainted with the wrong persons and fell prey to fraudsters who took advantage of his mild-mannered and humble character.”

Mr Dhillon also said that his client regretted his actions and was not the mastermind behind the offences.

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