Woman jailed for 41 months and 1 week over currency exchange 'pyramid scheme'

SINGAPORE - A woman provided much higher currency exchange rates to attract more people to give her money so that she could use it to fund her bulk purchases of admission tickets to local attractions, a court heard.

Since 2010, Salleha Mohd Aris, 35, had been offering admission tickets to attractions, such as Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, Sentosa, Kidzania and Universal Studios Singapore, which were cheaper than those charged.

She had obtained these tickets at a slight discount by making bulk purchases from travel agencies and other sources a few months before the tickets would be used.

In late 2013 or early 2014, she started providing currency exchange services at higher than market rates, even though she knew she could not get such rates from money changers.

She did so to attract more people to give her money to be exchanged, when she actually intended to use the money to fund her bulk purchases of admission tickets or to exchange at market rates to pay off earlier customers.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Li-Ting said Salleha's currency exchange scheme was, thus, unsustainable.

Salleha eventually failed to deliver the admission tickets and foreign exchange transactions to multiple victims as promised, when the losses she made from the currency exchange services accumulated.

On Monday (Oct 16), she was sentenced to 41 months and one week in jail after she admitted to five of counts of misappropriating money entrusted to her and 15 counts of deceiving victims into believing that she would offer higher exchange rates for foreign currencies, which she knew to be false.

Another 164 charges were taken into consideration in sentencing.

Salleha pleaded guilty on Monday. The offences occurred between May 2015 and December 2016.

The court heard that she received a total of about $492,000 from 102 victims - $67,364 from 87 victims who had given her money for the admission tickets and $424,630 from 15 victims who were deceived into believing that she could offer a much higher exchange rate.

DPP Lee said that while Salleha managed to return $174,258, she was merely using the money she received from other victims to do so.

Salleha could have been jailed for up to seven years and/or fined on each charge of criminal breach of trust. The maximum penalty for cheating is 10 years' jail and a fine per charge.