SkillsFuture fraud: $6.7m cash, 11kg gold kept in Sengkang flat

Ng Cheng Kwee (above) and his wife Lee Lai Leng are said to be important operatives in the syndicate behind the scam. Over two months, Lee moved their ill-gotten gains to her brother's Sengkang flat.
Ng Cheng Kwee (above) and his wife Lee Lai Leng are said to be important operatives in the syndicate behind the scam. Over two months, Lee moved their ill-gotten gains to her brother's Sengkang flat.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Man who allowed sister to keep ill-gotten gains in a safe in his flat jailed for money laundering

Apart from their luggage, a bag containing $930,000 in cash was what Lee Lai Leng also took to the airport on Sept 1 last year, before she and her husband left for a holiday to Hong Kong.

At the airport, she handed the bag of cash to her brother Lee Chi Wai for safe keeping. Over the next two months, she made visits to his Sengkang flat, placing large amounts of cash and gold in a safe - until it contained $6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold with a value of $626,500.

Details of how some of the ill-gotten gains from a $40 million scam against SkillsFuture Singapore - the biggest fraud against a government agency to date - were squirrelled away emerged in court yesterday when Lee Chi Wai, 32, was sentenced to five years and eight months in jail for money laundering.

His sister Lee Lai Leng, 40, and her husband, Ng Cheng Kwee, 42, are said to be important operatives in a syndicate that allegedly carried out the scam between May and October last year through a series of shell companies and bogus claims.

It was around May last year that Lee Chi Wai realised his sister and her husband were getting increasingly wealthy. The couple, whose flat had been repossessed after Ng's coffee-shop business failed, began driving a second-hand Mercedes-Benz and were looking to buy a new home.

Lee admitted that in July last year, his sister had asked him for details of his bank account and those of their parents, saying she had to park money in them because she "cannot have money" in hers.

After she said she would transfer $49,950 to him, he told her to make transfers "bit by bit", and cautioned that there would be an audit trail.

 

On Sept 7 last year, his sister told him the couple were trying to withdraw at least $1.4 million from the bank, with help from several others.

Seeing the couple's wealth, Lee asked his sister for a loan to buy a car for himself, and on Sept 9 she transferred $30,000 to him.

Between September and October last year, she made several visits to his flat, placing large amounts of cash in the safe that she had arranged to be delivered to him.

On Oct 30 and 31 last year, she bought 6kg of gold bars worth $344,000 from two jewellery shops in People's Park Complex. She also instructed Lee to collect another five 1kg gold bars worth $282,500. By Nov 1, there were $6.7 million in cash and 11kg of gold in the safe.

But on the same day, Lee received a call from his sister, who sounded flustered as she told him to empty the safe and pass the contents to someone else for safe keeping.

He then placed most of the cash and gold in a black duffel bag and a suitcase, leaving $50,000 and some commemorative coins in the safe.

After Lee took the bags to a friend's home, his sister told him to "format" his and his parents' phones. He deleted his WhatsApp conversations with her but did not format his phone. The next day, the siblings were arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department.

Lee eventually disclosed the location of the cash and gold, and the police seized them from the home of his friend, as well as the remaining contents in the safe.

Yesterday, Lee's lawyer, Mr Gino Hardial Singh, said Lee knew something was wrong but not the extent of what his sister did. He said his client was motivated not by personal gain but by blind trust and had acted in deference to his sister, and that he has since made restitution of $30,000 in relation to the loan.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Ivan Chua argued that this had little mitigating weight as full restitution was made only last Friday.

Lack of knowledge was also not a mitigating factor, said the DPP.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2018, with the headline 'SkillsFuture fraud: $6.7m cash, 11kg gold kept in Sengkang flat'. Print Edition | Subscribe