Woman jailed for cheating 53 people of $35m

Leong Lai Yee was sentenced to 14 years' jail. She used to be a real estate agent but was no longer one when she committed the offences.
Leong Lai Yee was sentenced to 14 years' jail. She used to be a real estate agent but was no longer one when she committed the offences.

She ran ponzi scheme involving 'distressed properties' and fake investments in start-ups

A housewife who ran a ponzi scheme from 2010 to 2015 and cheated 53 people of more than $35 million in total has been jailed for 14 years. Leong Lai Yee had duped her victims into believing that she would use the funds they had invested to buy "distressed properties" and sell them for a profit.

A distressed property usually comes about when the owner is unable to keep up with its mortgage. Such properties are commonly sold below market value.

The court heard that Leong, 55, had also told her victims that she would use their investments to fund start-ups and reap "lucrative monthly returns". However, she did not use her victims' funds for the intended purposes.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Chin said: "In reality, Leong would use the monies collected from more recent victims to pay off earlier victims, while enjoying her criminal proceeds in the meantime."

Leong was sentenced yesterday to 14 years in jail after pleading guilty to 50 cheating charges and one count of dealing with the benefits of her criminal activities. Another 806 charges were considered during sentencing.

The Straits Times understands that Leong used to be a real estate agent but was no longer one when she committed the offences.

From January 2010 to May 2015, she told her victims that she was buying distressed properties in Singapore's prime districts from sellers on the brink of bankruptcy.

 
 

DPP Chin said: "The accused told the victims that their funds would be used to purchase such properties. In addition, (she told them) that she would resell these properties to her ready pool of foreign buyers, who were keen to invest in Singapore properties, at higher prices. The difference between the prices would therefore constitute the profits earned by the victims."

In 2014, Leong ran another ruse in which some of her victims were told that she was funding start-ups. She then invited them to invest money with her, promising monthly returns of 7 per cent to 9 per cent.

For her ponzi scheme, she encouraged her victims to increase their investments and to refer others to her.

In 2015, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) received police reports lodged by complainants against Leong. But she left for Thailand on May 15 that year before the CAD started its investigation.

The court heard that she ran out of money and surrendered herself at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok on Nov 2, 2017. She was arrested on her return to Singapore two days later. She has not made restitution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2019, with the headline 'Woman jailed for cheating 53 people of $35m'. Print Edition | Subscribe