Mastermind of ruse admits duping Spring Singapore of nearly $155,000

SINGAPORE - A senior executive at Spring Singapore abused his position and masterminded a ruse to dupe the statutory board into disbursing nearly $155,000.

Leong Weng Cheou, who roped in four friends in the scam, received more than $77,000 of this amount.

Leong, 46, pleaded guilty in court on Thursday (Jan 31) to 18 counts of forgery and 12 cheating charges.

The court heard that 105 other similar charges will be taken into consideration during sentencing. He committed his offences in 2015 and 2016.

Spring Singapore, an agency aimed at helping Singapore enterprises grow, is now known as Enterprise SG, the court heard.

Leong is no longer with the agency.

While working for Spring Singapore, Leong's duties included assessing applications and claims for the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV).

Each voucher worth $5,000 was given to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to encourage them to develop their capabilities in five categories - innovation, productivity, human resource, financial management and solutions.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew said the ICV scheme operated on a "reimbursement basis".

Applications were submitted online to obtain Spring Singapore's approval to buy an item or service from a "solution provider", he added.

Each application must be accompanied by documents including a quotation from the solution provider.

Once approved, an applicant could then purchase the necessary item or service before submitting a claim to Spring Singapore for a disbursement of funds.

Each claim must be accompanied by an invoice and a proof of payment from the solution provider.

Applicants would receive their disbursements after Spring Singapore approved the claims.

In 2015, Leong hatched a plan to defraud the agency by using false documents to deceive it into disbursing money to shell business entities.

He roped in four Singaporean friends - Lionel Wong Yong Jun, 35, Soh Eng Luan, 38, Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, 41, and Wong Ping Ling, 44 - to take part in the scam.

The DPP said: "To carry out the plan, Leong engaged in four separate conspiracies with each of his four friends to register multiple shell business entities and forge supporting documents for the sole purpose of submitting fictitious ICV applications and claims to obtain the ICV moneys.

"There were a total of 31 successful fraudulent claims which amounted to $154,999.63, which Spring was deceived into paying out."

In late 2017, Leong had a meeting with his four friends as he knew that Spring Singapore's auditing processes would eventually uncover the ruse.

The court heard that Soh later consulted a lawyer and lodged a police report, admitting that she had conspired with Leong to cheat Spring Singapore.

Leong, who is represented by defence lawyer T.M. Sinnadurai, is expected to be sentenced on Feb 21.

For each cheating charge, he can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

The cases involving his four friends are still pending.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, Enterprise Singapore said that it views cases of fraudulent acts very seriously.

It added: “We have put in place stringent controls covering the different stages of the grant process from vendor qualification and selection, to evaluation of application and authentication of applicants, to the verification of claim submission and disbursement.

"These are supplemented by regular audits and enhanced through data analytics for early fraud detection.

“We also continuously conduct reviews of our systems and processes to improve our fraud risk management system. This helps us enhance our ability to detect anomalies and take prompt steps to safeguard against fraudulent acts.”