Sentence for 'corporate money mule' cut to a year's jail and $50,000 fine

Abdul Ghani Tahir was originally sentenced last year to a jail term of 26 months and four weeks.
Abdul Ghani Tahir was originally sentenced last year to a jail term of 26 months and four weeks.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The first person to be prosecuted here as a "corporate money mule" had his jail term cut by more than half by the High Court, in a decision which also laid down sentencing guidelines for future cases.

Abdul Ghani Tahir, 52, partly won his appeal against sentence and will serve a year in jail for his neglect in allowing the bank account of a company - of which he was a nominee director - to be used for money laundering. He was also fined $50,000.

He was originally sentenced last year to a jail term of 26 months and four weeks.

As a chartered accountant, he provided corporate secretarial services to small and medium-sized enterprises, including incorporating companies on behalf of clients and acting as the resident director of companies with directors who are overseas.

In December 2011, he incorporated World Eastern International on behalf of a Romanian man and agreed to be the resident director of the company, which was supposedly in the business of "wholesale of parts and accessories for vehicles".

Abdul Ghani had never met the company owner but set up the firm on the request of a Romanian agent named Nadia Monica.

Between April 11 and May 28, 2012, $321,954 was deposited into the company's UOB bank account from Singapore, Austria, Sudan and Canada, and $637,300 was transferred out to accounts in China, Morocco, the United States, Geneva, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.

During this time, he received seven notices from UOB to recall the six deposits. He told the agent to deal with the notices but she did not reply.

In June 2012, a director of the Singapore firm who made the sixth deposit asked for the funds to be returned. The matter was unresolved.

After an eight-day trial in 2015, Abdul Ghani was convicted of six counts under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act and one count under the Companies Act.

A district judge found that the transfers of the six deposits - which were considered stolen as the victims had been tricked into depositing them - were the result of his neglect as an officer of the firm.

Abdul Ghani appealed against conviction and sentence.

In a 93-page written judgment released on Monday (May29), Justice Chan Seng Onn dismissed his appeal against conviction, saying that the circumstances ought to have put him on inquiry that illicit activities were being carried out through the firm.

As this was the first such prosecution, Justice Chan set down sentencing guidelines by setting a notional upper limit based on the degree of mental culpability of the offender.

For cases of "consent or connivance", the upper limit is 10 years' jail, pegged to the maximum prescribed by law; for "recklessness", the limit is four years; and for negligence, two years.

Justice Chan said jail should not ordinarily be imposed for purely negligent breaches.

But in Abdul Ghani's case, his culpability "evolved from mere negligence to sheer recklessness" by the time he received the fourth recall notice from UOB, which specifically alerted him to a probable fraudulent transaction.

"At the end of the day, I have some sympathies for the appellant, as he can be said to be in some sense a "victim" of the offences masterminded by Nadia... But it must not be forgotten that he got himself into this position owing to his gross neglect and recklessness in the discharge of his duties as a director," said Justice Chan.