'Lonely', depressed woman helped man she met online launder $1m, jailed 30 months

Annee Foong exiting the State Courts on 6 October. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Wan Ting Koh)
Annee Foong exiting the State Courts on 6 October 2021. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore/Wan Ting Koh)

SINGAPORE — After meeting a man through a dating app, a woman accepted monies from him and even opened several bank accounts on his behalf, despite multiple warnings from authorities not to do so.

In total, Annee Foong received $1,092,462.41 from the man, scam victims and even a bank in Botswana.

The 48-year-old was jailed for two-and-a-half years on Tuesday (23 November), after pleading guilty to seven out of 45 counts of acquiring benefits from criminal conduct, and two out of three counts of failing to report cross border movements of cash which exceeded the prescribed amount of $20,000.

The remaining charges were taken into consideration for her sentencing.

Foong, a Singaporean working as a law firm secretary, met a man known as Steve Williams, purportedly a Briton working as an engineer, through the dating app Badoo in July 2016.

After chatting and exchanging phone numbers, Williams asked Foong to provide him with details of her Johor bank account, which allowed withdrawals of at least $30,000. A few days later, he told Foong that he had transferred money to her accounts and told her to remit it to his secretary via Moneygram.

He also instructed her to open bank accounts for him to deposit more monies, and then to transfer them to other unknown bank accounts.

Police investigation

Between 8 September and 18 November 2016, Foong was investigated by the police due to her banking activities. She was informed about the suspicious nature of the transactions and cautioned not to open more bank accounts for Williams or to carry out his instructions.

Foong was also told that she was being investigated as her bank accounts had been used to receive monies from scam victims.

The police warned Foong on 8 September, 18, 19 and 26 October, and 18 November 2016.

Despite the warning, Foong opened a HSBC account on 11 October for Williams’ use.

In December 2016, Foong changed the passwords for six of her internet banking accounts, to prevent Williams from accessing her accounts.

She became suspicious of his intentions as he failed to give satisfactory answers to her questions about why she was called up for police investigations over the transfers which she had done on his instructions.

$445,000 siphoned from Botswana

Around 13 January 2017, Williams informed her that an amount of about $400,000 would be transferred to her HSBC account as this was his retirement fund. He wanted her to receive these monies and withdraw it so that it could be passed to another person. Foong agreed to assist him.

After US$315,000 (S$445,514.78) was transferred into the HSBC account on the same day, Williams informed Foong to withdraw the money.

Foong managed to transfer about $11,708.94 out of the HSBC account, but was unable to withdraw the remaining amount as bank staff identified the transaction as suspicious and forbade it.

On 18 January 2017, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) received a complaint from the CEO of Capital Bank, a commercial bank in the Republic of Botswana, stating that his bank’s system had been hacked by unknown persons.

A fraudulent transfer of US$315,000 was then made from their Citibank New York bank account to Foong’s HSBC bank account.

Monies from scam victims

On six other occasions from October to December 2016, Foong received cash that she had reason to believe was obtained through criminal conduct.

The monies were deposited by scam victims into Foong’s bank accounts.

Among the victims was a 59-year-old man, who lost $95,000 to a Facebook friend who claimed that he was sending over $1.2 million, which was then held by Maybank Malaysia. The victim was told that Maybank Malaysia requested transaction fees which would later be refunded. The victim paid the fees.

Another victim, a 69-year-old man, met a person who claimed to be an orthopaedic surgeon and wanted to operate a clinic in Singapore. The scammer claimed that he was under custody by Malaysia Customs while awaiting the payment of administration fees, resulting in the victim paying $138,500.

On 4 October 2016, Foong entered Malaysia by bus through Woodlands Checkpoint with $76,500 in cash without reporting the amount. She did so again on 5 October 2016, this time with cash of $105,500.

She passed the money to Williams’ alleged secretary.

Foong received about $3,800 from Williams, while the Commercial Affairs Department seized $433,805.84 from her HSBC account.

A lonely woman who was scammed, says lawyer

Mitigating for Foong on Tuesday, her lawyer Riko Isaac said his client was a lonely woman yearning for love and relationship and who had been manipulated into becoming a money mule.

Isaac set out Foong’s background as a divorcee caring for three children, including a son with special needs. Her ex-husband had been abusive and had threw acid on her son’s face before she divorced him in 2014.

While Foong continued to work to support her children, she felt lonely and searched for a partner. She developed romantic feelings for Williams over time and trusted him.

Due to her feelings for him, she was “manipulated” to do his bidding, including the transfers, said the lawyer.

Foong was also suffering from persistent depressive disorder, which made her more susceptible to being groomed, Riko added. She has since acknowledged her wrongdoing.

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