Shell heist: Over 16 years’ jail for key player who earned at least $1.4m in ill-gotten gains

Tiah Kok Hwee being brought to court in 2018. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday to 20 counts of criminal breach of trust. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A key player in what the prosecution described as the largest and most sophisticated marine gas oil heist in Singapore’s history earned at least $1.4 million in ill-gotten gains from his offences.

Tiah Kok Hwee, 46, who committed these offences when he was working for oil giant Shell, then used the monies on luxury watches, foreign property and cars.

He was sentenced to 16 years and four months’ jail on Tuesday after pleading guilty to 20 counts of criminal breach of trust involving nearly US$69 million (almost S$94 million according to court documents).

He also admitted to four counts of dealing with the benefits of criminal conduct involving more than $4.2 million. Twenty-eight other charges were considered during sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Joshua Phang told the court that Tiah was not one of the masterminds behind the offences.

The prosecutor added: “The accused (instead) played an important role within the conspiracy, being an experienced employee who could carry out both fieldwork and panel work in furtherance of the scheme.”

One of the masterminds, former Shell employee Juandi Pungot, then 45, was jailed for 29 years in March 2022 for siphoning nearly $128 million worth of gas oil.

The cases involving several others allegedly linked to the case – including Muzaffar Ali Khan Muhamad Akram and Abdul Latif Ibrahim – are still pending.

Tiah joined Shell in 2005 as a process technician. He was a member of a group of employees at Shell Pulau Bukom called Team D, whose main functions included loading fuel products onto vessels.

DPPs Phang and Ryan Lim stated in court documents: “The conspiracy to misappropriate gas oil from Shell was started by Juandi and (Latif) some time in 2007.

“Between 2008 and mid-2013, Juandi and Latif expanded the scope of their criminal enterprise and recruited... individuals from Team D into the conspiracy.”

The prosecutors added that these recruited individuals included Muzaffar and Tiah.

Afterwards, the conspirators were able to perform illegal loadings approximately twice a month.

At the time, Juandi, Muzaffar and Tiah each received up to $15,000 in criminal proceeds per illegal loading, said the prosecutors.

They also told the court that at the time, the vessels receiving the misappropriated gas oil belonged to Prime Shipping Corporation, a Vietnamese entity, as well as two Singapore firms – Sentek Marine & Trading and Sirius Marine.

Between August 2014 and January 2018, over 200,000 metric tonnes of gas oil worth over $127 million were secretly siphoned out of Shell’s Pulau Bukom facility by the offenders from Team D.

On Aug 1, 2017, a Shell representative lodged a police report, stating that the company had suffered an unidentified loss of fuel.

Tiah was then arrested on Jan 8, 2018.

His bail was set at $550,000 on Tuesday, and he was ordered to surrender himself at the State Courts on Feb 8 to begin serving his sentence.

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