Man linked to $40 million SkillsFuture scam admits to money laundering offences

A SkillsFuture roadshow by the Workforce Development Agency. A scam that targeted SkillsFuture Singapore has been described as the largest fraud against a public institution here. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A freelance trader linked to the $39.9 million SkillsFuture scam has admitted to money laundering offences involving more than $4 million.

The scam that targeted SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) - it oversees an initiative aimed at promoting lifelong learning - has been described as the largest fraud against a public institution here.

Vincent Peter, 51, pleaded guilty on Thursday (Oct 10) to 12 counts of dealing with the benefits of criminal activities. He was the sixth person linked to the scam to be convicted.

Four of them, including former cleaner Manickam Pragasam, 58, and driver Roger Quek Si Guang, 33, have been jailed.

On Oct 4, former convict Ang Cheng Guan, 47, pleaded guilty to a range of offences, including six money laundering charges. He will be sentenced on Oct 18.

The SSG scheme pays subsidies to Singapore businesses when they send an employee for skills training courses with registered training providers if certain conditions are met.

This subsidy reimburses some of the course fees and is paid either to the training provider or the business, depending on the claim method used.

The scammers used nine Singapore-registered firms that submitted 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims to SSG between May and October 2017.

The court heard that they were "dormant" companies with "no ongoing business". About $39.9 million was disbursed by SSG to these entities, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Lim.

In 2012, Vincent got to know one of the alleged masterminds behind the scam, Ng Cheng Kwee, 43, after leasing a coffee shop stall from him.

Court documents state that Ng approached him five years later to find someone to encash cheques in exchange for an unspecified sum. Vincent accepted the offer and in turn, approached Manickam to cash the cheques.

The DPP said: "The accused told Manickam that he would give him an unspecified sum of money for encashing the cheques. Manickam took up the accused's offer as he was not working then and needed money to get by."

On Sept 12 and 19, 2017, Vincent received the cheques from Ng and handed them to Manickam, who cashed them at Maybank branches.

Vincent, who was not informed about the source of the funds, handed Ng more than $1 million over the two days.

The alleged mastermind, whose case is still pending, then gave him $3,000.

The Straits Times had earlier reported that Manickam received $20 after giving the cash to Vincent on Sept 12, 2017.

The court heard that Vincent continued committing similar offences even though he "had reasonable grounds to believe that the cheques and encashed monies represented proceeds from criminal conduct".

For instance, the DPP said that Ng was in the vicinity of the banks and there was no reason why he could not cash the cheques himself.

Vincent handled more than $4 million of the scammers' ill-gotten gains from Sept 12 to Nov 1, 2017. He is expected to be sentenced on Nov 8.

Offenders convicted of dealing with the proceeds of criminal conduct can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to $500,000 for each charge.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.