Pair jailed for role in boat purchase scam

Dutchman Predrag Nikolic arriving at the State Courts for his alleged role in a ruse that cheated cruise and leisure firm Oceanic Group of $1.5 million, on Sept 6, 2017.
Dutchman Predrag Nikolic arriving at the State Courts for his alleged role in a ruse that cheated cruise and leisure firm Oceanic Group of $1.5 million, on Sept 6, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

The managing director of a Singapore-based cruise and leisure firm went to France to collect €3.5 million (S$5.6 million) as a deposit from the buyer of a sea-going vessel - only to discover that some of the cash was counterfeit, a district court has heard.

But, by the time Mr Daniel Chui Mun Yew from the Oceanic Group found the bogus notes, his Singapore office had already handed over the commission totalling $1.5 million in cash to the buyer's agents.

Two Europeans linked to the ruse were each jailed for 21/2 years on Monday. Dutch national Predrag Nikolic, 46, and Dalida Nikolic, 36, who is French, each pleaded guilty to two counts of dealing with the benefits of criminal conduct totalling about $1.1 million.

The Straits Times understands they are related but court documents did not state the exact nature of their relationship.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Charis Low told the court on Monday that early last year, Mr Chui entered a cross-border arrangement as a broker for the sale of a vessel to a foreign buyer. The Nikolics and two alleged accomplices, Frenchman David Weidmann, 37 and Romanian Iosif Kiss, arrived in Singapore in late August.

Predrag Nikolic was told that he would receive €3,000 for his role in the scam and he promised to share this with Dalida Nikolic.

On Sept 2 last year, Mr Chui met one of the buyer's representatives in Paris to collect the deposit of €3.5 million. At the same time, Weidmann and Kiss were in Oceanic's Singapore office to wait for him to receive the money in France.

Mr Chui then told his staff to give the two European men the $1.5 million in commission after collecting the deposit at around 7.40pm.

He discovered the counterfeit notes only about 15 minutes later. Mr Chui alertedhis Singapore office to recall the $1.5 million but the two men had already fled the premises with the money.

The police were notified and the pair were caught at the Woodlands Checkpoint later that day. They had a total of about $400,000 in cash hidden underneath their clothes.

Before they were caught, DPP Low said Predrag Nikolic collected a suitcase containing about $1.1 million in cash from Weidmann in a toilet at City Square Mall in Little India.

Two days later, Dalida Nikolic received a call from a person named Sresko in Paris, asking her to meet a man known as Muhammad Shafee Mohamed Anees in Serangoon Road to hand over $340,000 of the cash. She did as she was told.

The Nikolics were arrested in their hotel room on Sept 5 last year and officers recovered more than $700,000 from them.

The cases involving Kiss and Weidmann are still pending. Mr Shafee's case is still under investigation.

Shaffiq Alkhatib

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'Pair jailed for role in boat purchase scam'. Print Edition | Subscribe