Social service worker lived high life with funds meant for the needy

When police raided Chia's home, they found 21 branded items worth nearly $30,000. He also used about $130,000 to settle debts owed by him and his relatives, and gave family members about $100,000 in cash as gifts. $2,047 Chia spent this amount at the
When police raided Chia's home, they found 21 branded items worth nearly $30,000. He also used about $130,000 to settle debts owed by him and his relatives, and gave family members about $100,000 in cash as gifts.
When police raided Chia's home, they found 21 branded items worth nearly $30,000. He also used about $130,000 to settle debts owed by him and his relatives, and gave family members about $100,000 in cash as gifts. $2,047 Chia spent this amount at the
$2,047 - Chia spent this amount at the five-star W Hong Kong hotel. Its rooftop pool is on the 76th storey and boasts an intricate mosaic wall.
$5,465 The amount Chia splurged at Louis Vuitton boutiques alone.
$5,465 - The amount Chia splurged at Louis Vuitton boutiques alone.

33-year-old gets 5 years and 4 months in jail for pocketing over $340k meant to help poor pay for basic necessities

For stealing money meant for the poor and spending it on the rich lifestyle he wanted, Chia Kwang Hwee was sentenced to five years and four months in jail yesterday.

Over nearly three years, the 33-year-old social service worker stole more than $340,000 from the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare), money meant to help the less fortunate.

The poor were counting on the money for basic necessities, but Chia spent $110,000 on expensive spa and hair salon packages, pricey meals, holidays and branded goods.

When police raided Chia's home, they found 21 branded items worth nearly $30,000.

He had splurged $5,000 at Louis Vuitton boutiques alone.

  • Some of what Chia spent the money on

  • Air tickets
    $3,647: Cathay Pacific Airways
    $1,992: China Eastern Airlines
    $1,418: SilkAir
    $2,480: Thai Airways

    Boutiques
    $3,701: Club 21
    $1,930: Mulberry
    $5,465: Louis Vuitton
    $3,500: Francis Cheong boutique
    $1,500: Lane Crawford
    $1,263: Ssense.com
    $1,148: Christian Dior

    Hotels
    $1,000: Sheraton Towers
    $2,047: W Hong Kong

    Dining
    $2,588: Chao Gang Cun Fine Dining

    Grooming
    $1,252: Jean Yip

  • $343,780 The amount Chia stole from November 2011 to August 2014

    42 Number of low-income and needy individuals and families who were supposed to receive the money that was stolen by Chia

He also used about $130,000 to settle debts owed by him and his relatives, and gave family members about $100,000 in cash as gifts.

Chia had earlier pleaded guilty to 19 charges: Two each for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and transferring criminal proceeds, and 15 for accessing a computer to commit criminal breach of trust.

Another 107 similar counts were taken into account in sentencing.

The $343,780 that Chia pilfered from November 2011 to August 2014 was meant for 42 low-income and needy individuals and families.

Between June 2009 and June 2013, Chia was a manager at the South East Community Development Council (South East CDC), and from July 2013, a manager at the Social Service Office (SSO) in Geylang Serai. At both workplaces, he was responsible for disbursing ComCare monies.

Between Jan 1, 2012, and Dec 31, 2013, Chia collected about 300 cheques totalling $197,060, issued by South East CDC or Geylang Serai SSO on behalf of beneficiaries, but cashed them as his own.

The cheques had been made out to "cash" as the beneficiaries did not have bank accounts.

In November 2012, as a team leader at South East CDC, Chia was granted access rights to a computer system used to administer ComCare funds to beneficiaries.

He also had system administrator rights and could reset the passwords of other account users.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, while at Geylang Serai SSO, Chia entered his bank account details into the system instead of the beneficiaries'.

He also misused his administrator rights to reset the passwords of 15 social service officers' accounts, and then used his colleagues' accounts to approve and transfer $67,100 in beneficiaries' payouts into his own account.

In a press statement sent out immediately after Chia was charged on Aug 3 this year, the Ministry of Social and Family Development said it was contacted by a beneficiary who had not been getting his payouts.

Chia was suspended from his duties on Aug 19, 2014, after his crimes were discovered.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Social service worker lived high life with funds meant for the needy'. Print Edition | Subscribe