SINGAPORE - A man was sentenced to three months' jail on Thursday (Sept 17) for forging documents to deceive the authorities into wrongfully disbursing funds designed to help people affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Edward Goh, 44, pleaded guilty in court to two counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating.
In sentencing him, District Judge Tan Jen Tse said that a strong signal was needed to deter other potential offenders.
Court documents state that Goh had forged two letters in May to cheat the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) into disbursing the Covid-19 Support Grant to his parents, Madam Tan Meng Lan and Mr Goh Keng Thow.
The grant is meant to support those who had lost their jobs, as well as employees who were placed on involuntary no-pay leave or had their salaries reduced by at least 30 per cent for at least three consecutive months.
The grant provides Singaporeans and permanent residents with up to $800 a month for three months if they meet the job loss or no-pay leave criteria.
Those who qualify based on their pay cut will receive up to $500 a month for three months, with the quantum based on the amount of basic monthly salary lost.
A person applying for the grant will also have to submit supporting documents proving their eligibility, such as a letter of retrenchment or termination of contract.
On May 5, Goh forged a letter stating that his mother had been retrenched from her job as a kitchen staff member in the foodcourt at Ion Orchard shopping mall.
Goh then attached the forged letter to the online grant application form, which indicated that his mother had lost her job on April 7, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Nicholas Lim.
"In truth, Madam Tan had lost her job on May 4 when she had been retrenched," the DPP said.
The DPP also said that she continued to receive her full salary and Central Provident Fund contributions for April and May, and was only provided an official retrenchment letter around June 3.
Goh forged another document again on May 14.
This time, he created a retrenchment memo purportedly issued on March 1 by his father's former employer, Ee Hui Food Catering. The memo stated that his father was no longer employed by the company then.
DPP Lim said that Goh, who was jobless when he committed the offences, then submitted his father's online grant application form along with the forged memo attached.
However, the elder Mr Goh had stopped working for Ee Hui on Feb 29, court documents state.
He had also subsequently resigned from his job as a cook at a noodle stall owned by another company and had not been retrenched.
Both forged documents were later determined to be fraudulent by the MSF.
While no money was disbursed to Madam Tan, $800 had already been received by the elder Mr Goh. He has since returned the money.
Goh is also the first person to be sentenced over deceiving the Government into disbursing grants intended for people affected by the pandemic, said DPP Lim on Thursday.
The case involving Chow Jia Chuan, 29, another person charged with similar offences, is still pending.
Urging the court to jail Goh for three months, DPP Lim said in his written submissions that Goh had sought to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Government's response to it to financially benefit his parents.
"It is therefore necessary for the court to send a clear message to the public and a deterrent signal to would-be offenders that any attempts to cheat the Government, and to unduly enrich themselves or others at the expense of those who are truly entitled to the grant (given the limited budget allotted to these disbursements), will be met with severe punishment," he added.
District Judge Tan granted Goh's request to defer his sentence until Sept 28, so that he can settle his personal affairs.
For each offence, Goh could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.