Former mosque chairman and community ‘hero’ jailed for embezzling $371,000 in donations

·Senior Reporter
FILE PHOTO: Getty Images
FILE PHOTO: Getty Images

SINGAPORE — A former mosque chairman who misappropriated more than $371,000 from the mosque's cash donation boxes over seven years was sentenced to two years and three months' jail on Wednesday (24 April).

Ab Mutalif Hashim, 58, had pleaded guilty last month to six out of 14 charges of criminal breach of trust with the remaining charges taken into consideration for sentencing.

Mutalif had exploited his authority as the chairman of Masjid Darussalam, said District Judge Ong Chin Rhu as she passed the sentenced.

"(He) enjoyed deep abiding trust from the community which he served. As the holder of the senior leadership appointment of Chairman...he was implicitly trusted by Muis (The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), his fellow board members, the congregation, as well as caretakers and volunteers of the mosque," said the judge.

The trust in him allowed him to circumvent the financial regulations in place and siphon from the donation boxes in his safekeeping, said the judge.

Two witnesses were required for the counting and recording of cash from the donation boxes. The personal particulars and signatures of the witnesses also have to be recorded. However, this was not done.

Instead, the containers and chests were kept at Mutalif's office for "safekeeping" according to the prosecution.

The judge disagreed with the defence’s argument that Mutalif’s donations of $130,848 for the mosque’s toilet renovation and another $60,000 through a project should be taken as restitution. DJ Ong said that these sums should be considered as past contributions by Mutalif and his family.

Seen as hero by congregants: lawyer

In a previous hearing, Mutalif's lawyer Satwant Singh told the court that his client was seen as a hero by needy congregants. Mutalif could not bear to turn away those who appeared at the mosque doors, said Singh. Of the money misappropriated, between $67,600 and $84,000 had gone to those who sought assistance at the mosque.

However, the judge noted that it was not the case that most or all of the monies Mutalif had embezzled was given to the needy nor was it the case that the ex-chairman had not personally gained.

The “ultimate victims” of Mutalif’s crimes were the congregants who expected their donations to be managed and used responsibly and in a transparent manner, said DJ Ong.

Mutalif was the chairman of the mosque’s management board from 2003 to August 2010, when he became the voluntary chairman of its board up till March 2013.

While in the position, Mutalif set up the Just Parenting Association (JPA) and served as its executive director. He was also the president of the Association for Devoted and Active Family Men (Adam).

Between 1 January 2006 and 31 March 2013, Mutalif dishonestly misappropriated $371,891.

He used some of the money to pay for the expenses of JPA and Adam. As executive director of JPA, Mutalif drew a monthly salary of $7,000. The other monies in JPA’s account were used for operational expenses, including payroll, rental and utilities. Mutalif had used more than $18,000 of the misappropriated monies to pay for the expenses of Adam.

Mutalif deposited some $71,000 in donations into his personal bank account and used the money to fund his credit card bills, household expenses and holidays.

Continue serving community after leaving prison

Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore after the hearing, Singh said his client has accepted his punishment but will continue serving his community once he leaves prison.

"At the end of the day, he still wants to serve people. He has been serving since young, nothing will stop him," said the lawyer, adding that his client was very remorseful and sought forgiveness from the community.

It was an emotional moment for some ten family members, including his wife and daughter, and friends, who were seen hugging Mutalif tearily before he was taken away to start his sentence on Wednesday.

The group declined comment when asked, with a member only saying that they were now "very sad".

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