SkillsFuture scam: Key member of syndicate admits to being director of fake training companies

The scam has been described as the largest case of fraud perpetrated against a public institution in Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - One of the key members of a SkillsFuture scam involving nearly $40 million admitted to his role in the syndicate on Wednesday (July 14).

Andy Quek Sze Leng, 41, played the role of the "dua beh gong" or "dummy director" of several of the shell companies that were used to dupe SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) into disbursing money for training courses which never took place.

Quek, a former Grab and Uber driver, pleaded guilty over video-link on Wednesday to 21 charges which include cheating, laundering the criminal proceeds and transferring funds gained from criminal conduct.

A total of 49 similar charges will be taken into consideration for his sentencing, scheduled for Aug 18.

The scam has been described as the largest case of fraud perpetrated against a public institution in Singapore.

Under the SSG scheme, a Singapore business entity that sends its employees for skills training courses with registered training providers can apply to SSG for a subsidy, if certain conditions are met.

This means a portion of the total course fee payable by the business entity to the training provider will come from the Government. Depending on the claim method used, subsidies are paid to either the training provider or the applicant business.

Ng Cheng Kwee, 44; Lee Lai Leng, 42; Sim Soon Lee, 44; David Lim Wee Hong, 42; and Quek, are said to be important operatives in the syndicate which used nine shell companies to commit the offences. The cases involving the other key members are pending.

These entities submitted a total of 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims to SSG between May and October 2017.

The court heard that Quek joined the syndicate in July that year after Sim offered to pay him, if he registered himself as a director of three of the companies that purportedly offered training.

"(Quek) knew that the training providers were cheating... because he was asked by Sim to be a 'dua beh gong of the companies', meaning he was to 'take the blame' if anything were to go wrong," said Deputy Public Prosecutors Ivan Chua and Tan Zhi Hao.

Sim informed Quek that there was no training conducted by the three training providers, but Quek agreed to the deal because he wanted to make money.

Between August and October 2017, Quek agreed to assist Sim in laundering the criminal proceeds. Sim asked him to sign cheques issued by the three training providers and withdraw about $19 million in cash from the accounts which held the disbursements from SSG.

He received more than $1 million in commission from Sim and has not made any restitution.

Quek fled the country on Oct 20, 2017. He went to China with Sim.

Quek was extradited from Hong Kong in August 2018 after he failed to renew his Singapore passport there. Quek had tried to get help from Sim but was unable to contact him.

Of the close to $40 million disbursed by SSG, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) recovered about $18.6 million. Other members of the syndicate made restitution of $21,000, and about $21.3 million remains unaccounted for.

Another member of the syndicate, Lee Chi Wai was sentenced to five years and eight months' jail in November 2018. Quek's brother, Roger Quek Si Guang, was jailed for 3½ years in February 2019 for his involvement.

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