Man misappropriated over $4.7m to make payments linked to 'fraudulent investments'

Jerry Lee Kian Eng pleaded guilty to one count of criminal breach of trust as an agent involving more than $1.2 million.
Jerry Lee Kian Eng pleaded guilty to one count of criminal breach of trust as an agent involving more than $1.2 million.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An elderly man misappropriated more than $4.7 million in total after he was told to make payments linked to what he thought were "overseas investments".

But later investigations revealed that the purported investments might be fraudulent and that Jerry Lee Kian Eng, now 77, had likely fallen prey to an advance-fee scam perpetrated by unknown individuals overseas.

Lee pleaded guilty on Tuesday (May 18) to one count of criminal breach of trust as an agent involving more than $1.2 million.

Five other charges involving the remaining amount will be considered during sentencing. He committed the offences between 2014 and 2017.

His "long-term life partner", Alison See Lay Eng, now 74, who faces a single charge, admitted on Tuesday that she had engaged in a conspiracy with him to misappropriate some of the cash totalling more than US$2.2 million (S$3 million) in 2016.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Suhas Malhotra said that Lee was a certified public accountant of more than 40 years' standing.

He was the managing partner of chartered accounting firm Ng, Lee & Associates, as well as a shareholder and an adviser of DFK Singapore Corporate Services, a firm that provided business process outsourcing services.

Alison See was a director at DFK, the court was told.

The court heard that in the 1990s, Lee began making what he believed were "overseas investments".

The DPP said: "Over the years, he was told that his investment funds and profits went through various foreign authorities, such as the 'US Department of Justice', 'US Department of Treasury' and the 'Federal Reserve Board'.

"(Lee) was asked by the purported foreign authorities to make various payments, such as capital gain taxes, litigation fees and penalties, in order to recover his invested sums and profits."

The couple then committed the offences so that Lee could make such payments.

"During the course of the investigations... Lee still had not received any returns from his supposed investments," said the DPP.

Jerry Lee Kian Eng's partner, Alison See Lay Eng (pictured), admitted that she had engaged in a conspiracy with him to misappropriate some of the cash. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Some time in 2013, a foreign representative from a company called Fan Hua approached DFK to incorporate Fan Hua in Singapore.

Alison See then approached her nephew, See Kok Tai, to be Fan Hua's director and it was incorporated in March that year.

See Kok Tai was director only in name and Fan Hua was managed by its representative, whose details were not revealed in court documents.

Even though the Sees were signatories of its local bank accounts, they had no authority over the usage of its funds.

Around 2015 or 2016, purported representatives of the United States' government authorities contacted Lee and claimed that he would receive more than US$9.7 million from his "investments".

He was then told to make various payments to overseas accounts in the Philippines to receive the monies.

Lee, who did not have enough funds, approached Fan Hua's representative for a loan but was turned down.

He approached Alison See for help and told her that he could pay back Fan Hua once he received the monies.

She agreed to help him and prepared multiple unauthorised withdrawals totalling more than US$2.2 million from Fan Hua's bank account in 2016.

Most of the funds were then transferred to bank accounts in the Philippines.

The offences came to light in November 2016 when Fan Hua's representative wanted to make a payment over an invoice, but found out that there were insufficient funds in its bank account.

Lee then admitted that he had taken the monies. To date, the couple have made more than US$715,000 in restitution.

In relation to his role in facilitating the withdrawals, See Kok Tai was earlier sentenced to four weeks' jail after he pleaded guilty to an offence under the Companies Act.

Separately, Lee became the court-appointed administrator of a dead person's estate in 2014 as he was a certified public accountant.

The following year, he made unauthorised withdrawals totalling more than $1.2 million from the estate's bank account.

He then transferred most of the monies to an overseas bank account in the Philippines maintained by a firm called Oppman Management Inc.

To date, he has made $488,000 in restitution to the estate. He also made restitution of $328,000 to his other victims.

Lee's bail was set at $110,000 on Tuesday, while Alison See was offered bail of $15,000. The two Singaporeans will be sentenced on July 12.

For criminal breach of trust, an offender can be jailed for up to seven years and fined.