SINGAPORE - A Singaporean woman admitted in court on Tuesday (Dec 14) that she bought landed properties in Ang Mo Kio under her name for three Chinese nationals despite knowing that the foreigners were not eligible to buy the units in question.
Prosecutors are seeking a month's jail for 49-year-old Song Fanrong, who pleaded guilty to one charge of flouting the Residential Property Act, which forbids citizens from buying residential properties on behalf of foreigners.
Two similar charges will be taken into consideration when Song is sentenced on Jan 5 next year.
Song, a naturalised citizen and former pre-school owner, is now an undischarged bankrupt.
A district court heard that between September and November 2014, Song acted as a nominee for the three men to buy semi-detached houses in Belgravia Villas, a freehold cluster housing estate.
In name, she was the purchaser, but the funds came from the three men: Mr Wang Chen, Mr Liu Guohui and Chen Xiaopu.
Under the law, the foreigners would have required government approval to buy the properties.
Chen, 39, was charged on Monday with appointing Song as his nominee to buy a unit.
Those who contravene the law face a fine of up to $100,000, jail of up to three years, or both.
The court heard that, in the case of Mr Wang, Song recommended the estate to him after learning that he intended to immigrate to Singapore.
Song told Mr Wang that he would not be eligible to buy the property in his own name. She offered to buy the property on his behalf and transfer ownership to him once he obtained his Singapore citizenship.
Mr Wang accepted the offer and signed an agreement with Song, which stated that she was merely a trustee and was buying the property on his behalf.
He transferred $1.8 million to Song's bank account in China, and she then paid the sum to the developer as part payment of the $3.48 million unit.
Subsequently, all three sale and purchase agreements were defaulted on when the three men stopped making progressive payments.
Prosecutors are applying to confiscate about $1.6 million, which was surrendered by the developer, Fairview Developments, and has been seized by the Commercial Affairs Department.
The sum is the remainder of the monies paid by the men, through Song, as part payments for the properties after the developer deducted the contractual penalties for the default on the sale and purchase agreements.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi, in written submissions, noted that the Act was enacted to limit speculation by foreigners in the Singapore housing market.
He urged the court to send a clear message that those who offer to help foreigners circumvent the law will not be tolerated.
The prosecutor noted that Song suggested that the foreigners buy the properties using her as the nominee.
He said such offences were difficult to detect: The Singapore Land Authority lodged a police report against Song in 2017, at least three years after the offences took place.
Steps were taken to "cloak" the nominee arrangement: The contracts between Song and the three men were made in China, and she received her funds in China, he said.
Song's lawyer, Mr Alain Johns, asked for a jail term of "below a month".
He argued that Song did not profit from the purchases and that her only intention was to hold the properties until the men obtained Singapore citizenship.
Mr Johns noted that there has been no widespread breaches of the Act and that there have been only three cases over the past 20 years.
In March 2017, the three men filed a High Court suit against Song, alleging that she had misled them into believing that she could help them apply for Singapore permanent residency or citizenship through her "good connections".