Man jailed for role in illegal money transfers

He received US$420k from woman he knew online, and transferred sum to third parties

Divorcee Osborn Yap was so smitten with a Laura he had only ever "met" through an online date, he agreed to use his company's bank account to receive US$420,000 (S$574,700) from her. Yap, 47, then transferred the money to third parties as instructed by her.

For that, he was sentenced to 30 months in jail after being convicted on six charges. These involved receiving money from an overseas account that was fraudulently remitted to his bank account, and which he subsequently transferred out.

In judgment grounds released on Aug 4, following a four-day trial that ended in February, District Judge Eddy Tham made the point that love should not trump reason.

He wrote: "While I accept that the accused clearly harboured hopes of a new romantic relationship, nonetheless, (he) was still expected to be in possession of a rational mind and could not use the excuse of being overwhelmed in love to become an unthinking simpleton and swallow everything that was fed to him."

The fraud was detected by HSBC Bermuda Bank about a month after the money was transferred from the victim's account on May 15, 2013.

The next day, after Yap received the money in the DBS Bank account of the firm he controlled, he cashed out $450,000 in two batches as instructed by Laura and handed the sums over to one Mary Natha, using a code number to identify her.

He handed Mary another $43,000 the following day and subsequently withdrew $9,200 to be placed in two other persons' accounts as instructed by Laura. There was no restitution and only $18,360 was surrendered to the police.

His lawyer Louis Lim urged the court to consider a non-custodial sentence, given that Yap had been manipulated into committing the offences, and that he did not personally benefit and had cooperated fully.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien pressed for a deterrent sentence, citing precedent cases to send a "clear signal" to those who sought to conduct money-laundering activities here.

Judge Tham said he would not hesitate to bear heavily upon foreign criminals like Laura who target Singapore's financial system "as a conduit to siphon off ill-gotten gains".

"Instead, we have here an offender who, in a sense, was a victim himself, having been duped into thinking (Laura) was a damsel in distress," he said.

He added that Yap was dealing with "an online persona and common sense would have dictated that caution should be exercised".

Yap, currently on bail, is appealing. The prosecution is also appealing against the sentence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2017, with the headline 'Man jailed for role in illegal money transfers'. Print Edition | Subscribe