One of the masterminds of ruse that saw WDA cheated of nearly $73,000 admits to offences

SINGAPORE - A woman has admitted in court that she was one of the masterminds of a ruse that duped the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) into disbursing nearly $73,000 by submitting false claims for training courses that did not exist.

Serene Loh Peh Wen, who was then working as an independent training consultant, earned a commission of nearly $22,000 from the monies disbursed.

The court heard that WDA had disbursed the monies to two companies: Yoke Mah Plasterceil that deals with plaster and cement, and Image Institute of Learning and Development, which provides corporate training services.

The 47-year-old's admission was made as she pleaded guilty last Friday (Jan 3) to five counts of cheating WDA of more than $35,000.

Eight other similar charges relating to the remaining amount will be considered during sentencing.

The Singaporean had four alleged accomplices whose cases are pending. They are: Sebastian Chen Yuren, 34; Siew Hoong Hua, 45; Marsh Terranova Tiruchellam, 53; and Patrick Ho Kok Wing, 56.

Image Institute hired Loh from May 2015 to January 2016. Yoke Mah Plasterceil was one of her clients. A third company, business consultancy firm Loyal Reliance, had engaged Loh between late 2013 and April 2015.

When she was engaged by Loyal Reliance, she was paid a 30 per cent commission for each training course she arranged for Yoke Mah. Image Institute gave her a 70 per cent commission for each training course she arranged for Yoke Mah.

Loyal Reliance and Image Institute were training providers approved by WDA under an initiative called the Funding for Employer-based Training Scheme.

The scheme aimed to encourage firms to upgrade their workers' skills by defraying their costs of doing so.

Under the scheme, companies could apply for training grants to fund their employees' participation in courses run by approved training providers.

There were two types of training grants. One of them, known as the "course fee grant", provided up to 90 per cent of the course fees per employee.

It could be paid to either the training provider or the applicant company.

The other was known as the "absentee payroll grant", which provided for up to 80 per cent of each employee's hourly salary - capped at $7.50 per hour - while they attended training courses during work hours.

This grant was paid to the applicant company.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Phua said that between March 2014 and May 2015, Loh, Chen and Siew conspired to deceive WDA by submitting false information to the agency.

At the time, Siew was a manager at Yoke Mah in charge of day-to-day operations while Chen was a training consultant who reported to Loh.

Court documents stated that as part of the plan, Loh enlisted the help of three trainers - Ho, Chen and Marsh. Both Chen and Marsh had worked for Image Institute after leaving Loyal Reliance.

The DPP added that once the training dates were confirmed, either Loh or Chen would inform the trainers, who would then block out the Yoke Mah training dates on the respective calendars.

He told District Judge Sarah Tan: "In fact, none of the three trainers conducted any training courses for Yoke Mah.

"After the course dates had passed, the trainers would submit their claims to Loyal Reliance for the purported training they conducted for Yoke Mah."

These bogus claims were then submitted via SkillsConnect - an online portal hosted on WDA's server, the court heard.

The DPP said that Loh, Siew and Chen used a similar method in their one claim involving Image Institute.

The offences came to light after a senior manager at WDA alerted the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force on Oct 30, 2015.

Loh will be sentenced on Thursday (Jan 9). For each count of cheating, she can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

Correction note: The report has been edited for accuracy. An earlier version of the report did not accurately state the recipients of the money. We are sorry for the error.

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