Spring S'pore exec admits to duping agency of $155,000

Charges include forgery and cheating for claims under innovation scheme for SMEs

A senior executive at Spring Singapore abused his position and masterminded a ruse to dupe the statutory board into disbursing nearly $155,000. Leong Weng Cheou, who roped in four friends for the scam, received over $77,000 of this amount.

Leong, 46, pleaded guilty in court yesterday to 18 counts of forgery and 12 cheating charges. The court heard that 105 other similar charges will be taken into consideration during sentencing. He committed his offences in 2015 and 2016.

Spring Singapore, an agency aimed at helping Singapore enterprises grow, is now known as Enterprise SG, the court heard.

While working for Spring Singapore, his duties included assessing applications and claims for the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV). Each voucher worth $5,000 was given to small and medium-sized enterprises to encourage them to develop their capabilities in five categories - innovation, productivity, human resource, financial management and solutions.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew said the ICV scheme operated on a "reimbursement basis".

Applications were submitted online for Spring Singapore's approval to buy an item or service from a "solution provider", he added. Each application must be accompanied by documents, including a quotation from the vendor.

Once approved, an applicant could make the purchase before submitting a claim for disbursement, with supporting invoice and proof of payment. Applicants would receive their disbursements after the claim was approved.

In 2015, Leong hatched a plan to defraud the agency by using false documents to deceive it into disbursing money to shell business entities. He roped four Singaporean friends - Lionel Wong Yong Jun, 35, Soh Eng Luan, 38, Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, 41, and Wong Ping Ling, 44 - into the scam.

The DPP said: "To carry out the plan, Leong engaged in four separate conspiracies with each of his four friends to register multiple shell business entities and forge supporting documents for the sole purpose of submitting fictitious ICV applications and claims to obtain the ICV moneys.

"There were... 31 successful fraudulent claims which amounted to $154,999.63, which Spring was deceived into paying out."

In late 2017, Leong had a meeting with his four friends as he knew that Spring Singapore's auditing processes would eventually uncover the ruse. The court heard that Soh later consulted a lawyer and lodged a police report, admitting that she had conspired with Leong to cheat Spring Singapore.

Leong, who is represented by defence lawyer T.M. Sinnadurai, is expected to be sentenced on Feb 21.

For each cheating charge, he can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined. The cases involving his four friends are still pending.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2019, with the headline 'Spring S'pore exec admits to duping agency of $155,000'. Print Edition | Subscribe