Woman gets 29-month jail sentence for role in scam that cheated WDA of nearly $73k

SINGAPORE - A 47-year-old woman, one of the masterminds of a ruse that duped the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) to disburse almost $73,000, was sentenced to two years and five months' jail on Thursday (Jan 9).

The scam includes submitting false claims for training courses that did not exist.

Serene Loh Peh Wen, who was an independent training consultant when she committed the crimes between 2014 and 2015, earned a commission of nearly $22,000 from the monies disbursed.

Before handing down the sentence, District Judge Sarah Tan said: "(The offences) involved public funds and were difficult to detect."

They also deprived genuine and eligible candidates of the funds, she added.

Loh had pleaded guilty on Jan 3 this year to five counts of cheating WDA of more than $35,000. Eight other similar charges on the remaining amount were considered during sentencing.

The Singaporean had four alleged accomplices whose cases are pending: Sebastian Chen Yuren, 34; Siew Hoong Hua, 45; Marsh Terranova Tiruchellam, 53; and Patrick Ho Kok Wing, 56.

The court heard that WDA had disbursed the monies to two companies: Yoke Mah Plasterceil that deals with plaster and cement, and Image Institute of Learning and Development, which provides corporate training services.

Image Institute hired Loh from May 2015 to January 2016. Yoke Mah Plasterceil was one of her clients. A third company, business consultancy firm Loyal Reliance, had engaged Loh between late 2013 and April 2015.

Loyal Reliance paid her a 30 per cent commission for each course she arranged for Yoke Mah, while Image Institute gave her a 70 per cent commission for each course she arranged for Yoke Mah.

Loyal Reliance and Image Institute were training providers approved by WDA under an initiative called the Funding for Employer-based Training Scheme, which encourages companies to upgrade their workers' skills by defraying the costs of doing it.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Phua had said that between March 2014 and May 2015, Loh, Chen and Siew conspired to deceive WDA by submitting false information.

Siew was then a manager at Yoke Mah in charge of day-to-day operations, while Chen was a training consultant who reported to Loh.

Loh got the help of three trainers: Ho, Chen and Marsh. Both Chen and Marsh had worked for Image Institute after leaving Loyal Reliance.

The DPP said either Loh or Chen would inform the trainers when the training dates were confirmed.

"After the course dates had passed, the trainers would submit their claims to Loyal Reliance," he added.

These bogus claims were submitted via SkillsConnect - an online portal hosted on WDA's server.

The DPP said Loh, Siew and Chen used a similar method in their one claim involving Image Institute.

It was not stated how the offences came to light but on Oct 30, 2015, a senior manager at WDA alerted the Commercial Affairs Department about the falsified information submitted by Yoke Mah and Loyal Reliance.

For each count of cheating, Loh could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

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