Mastermind of $38m Keppel Club scam pleads guilty

Setho Oi Lin leaving court yesterday. Investigations revealed that she received at least $11 million from the cheating offences.
Setho Oi Lin leaving court yesterday. Investigations revealed that she received at least $11 million from the cheating offences.ST PHOTO: JONATHAN CHOO

70-year-old former employee duped 1,341 people into paying for fake memberships over a decade

Over 10 years, Keppel Club employee Setho Oi Lin, also known as Setho Irene, would tell prospective buyers that there were club memberships available for transfer.

Instead of paying the club directly, the buyers would be instructed to make payment to third parties, including Setho's friend, and this accomplice's family members.

A supervisor at the membership department would enter these buyers' names into the database and issue them with membership cards.

In total, between June 1, 2004, and Aug 1, 2014, Setho duped 1,341 people into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships.

Yesterday, Setho, 70, pleaded guilty to 60 counts of cheating.

Her two accomplices, membership department supervisor Nah Hak Chuah and club member Ivy Cheo Soh Chin, both 67, admitted to their roles in the scam on Nov 30.

According to the charges Setho pleaded guilty to, the buyers paid between $26,500 and $41,500 each.

  • About the case

  • Three people have pleaded guilty over their roles in a scam where 1,341 people were duped into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships at the Keppel Club.

    They are the general manager's personal assistant Setho Oi Lin, also known as Setho Irene, 70; supervisor at the membership department Nah Hak Chuah, 67; and club member Ivy Cheo Soh Chin, also 67, who is Setho's friend.

    The offences took place from June 1, 2004, to Aug 1, 2014.

    The Business Times first reported the case in December 2014, stating that Keppel Club, which is more than a century old, had been "rocked by a recent shocking discovery of 'phantom' memberships".

    A well-placed source told The Straits Times then that a long-serving club employee - later found to be Setho - was suspected of having issued some 1,200 membership cards without crediting any of the transfer fees to the club.

    It was understood that she was sacked in October 2014.

    The trio were charged in court late last year.

    Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said Keppel Club ceased the sale of new transferable memberships in 1989. It also stopped the sale of new non-transferable memberships in 1997.

    DPP Hon said: "Since then, anyone who wishes to become a Keppel Club member has to purchase the membership from an existing member... The purchase price includes a fixed transfer fee of $12,000, plus prevailing GST rate, and an account activation fee ranging from $300 to $530 across the years, both to be paid to Keppel Club."

    But the victims paid their fees to third parties instead.

    Investigations found that Setho, who was the mastermind, received at least $11 million of the proceeds from her cheating offences.

    Shaffiq Alkhatib

The buyers were directed to pay the purchase prices and transfer fees to third parties, including Cheo, her daughter, mother and brother-in-law.

Cheo's three family members were not club members.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said: "These buyers or their nominees were able to enter Keppel Club and make use of the club facilities as they were issued with membership cards and their details had been entered into the system.

"They did not realise what went on behind the scenes at the membership department."

Investigations revealed that Setho received at least $11 million from the cheating offences.

The court heard that besides the 60 counts of cheating, Setho has 3,121 other charges that will be considered during sentencing.

They are for an additional 1,281 counts of cheating, 1,339 counts of abetting false entries into the club's electronic membership database, and 501 counts of dealing with the benefits of her criminal conduct.

DPP Hon said Setho worked at Keppel Club for nearly 48 years from 1966.

Setho, who now moves around in a wheelchair, started off as a general clerk and was promoted through the ranks. She was a personal assistant to the general manager when she committed the offences.

The general manager oversaw membership matters.

He lodged a police report on Aug 13, 2014, stating that Setho had cheated new members of Keppel Club into buying club memberships from "phantom buyers" and directed them to pay the fees to third parties.

As of that month, the club had 2,682 legitimate members.

Setho is out on bail of $300,000 and will be back in court on Feb 9 next year. Nah admitted to 30 of 1,280 charges of making false entries in the club's electronic membership database.

Cheo pleaded guilty to 20 of 303 counts of money laundering.

The cases involving Nah and Cheo have been adjourned to next month.

Offenders convicted of cheating can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined for each charge.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 05, 2017, with the headline 'Mastermind of $38m Keppel Club scam pleads guilty'. Print Edition | Subscribe