Man who conspired with 4 friends to cheat statutory board jailed 4 years

Singapore state courts (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

CORRECTION: Leong Weng Cheou was sentenced to four years’ jail, not four months. We are sorry for the error.

A staff member at the former Spring Singapore who conspired with four friends to defraud the statutory board for two years was sentenced to four years’ jail on Monday (18 March).

Leong Weng Cheou, a 46-year-old Singaporean, had asked his friends to register shell businesses to apply for grants from Spring Singapore as he was aware of flaws in a scheme to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Spring Singapore is now known as Enterprise Singapore after it merged with International Enterprise Singapore.

The then senior executive of Spring pleaded guilty to 30 charges, including engaging in a conspiracy to forge documents in order to cheat Spring and engaging in a conspiracy to cheat Spring into disbursing grants to the applicants.

Another 105 charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for his sentencing.

Leong made use of the Innovation and Capability Voucher (ICV) scheme to carry on out his scam. The scheme involves Spring disbursing $5,000 vouchers to SMEs to encourage them to develop their capabilities. An SME is able to apply up to a maximum of eight vouchers.

At the time of the offences, Leong was responsible for assessing ICV applications and claims. In 2015, he formed a plan to cheat Spring as he wanted to obtain money to spend on his personal expenses.

As part of his plan, Leong chose four friends to register multiple shell businesses. He would then forge supporting documents in order to submit fake ICV applications and claims to obtain the grants. He taught his friends, Soh Eng Luan, 38, Lionel Wong Yong Jun, 35, Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, 41, and Wong Ping Ling, 44, how to register shell businesses, in order for them to be able to submit ICV applications.

He chose these four friends as he thought that they needed money. He promised them a share of the money if they were to participate in the scam with him.

In total, Leong forged 104 documents, including bank statements, quotations and invoices purportedly from solutions providers.

To facilitate his forgery, Leong obtained genuine supporting documents from his computer system and amended them to reflect the shell businesses and his four friends’ details. He saved the authentic documents in his personal hard disk, brought them home and edited them with image editing software.

He then submitted the fictitious documents with the claims. He also assessed 30 of the fraudulent applications in order to increase the likelihood of them being approved.

After Spring disbursed the funds for claims, Leong would split the money equally with the friends who were involved in the claim. Spring was deceived into paying a total of about $155,000 through 31 false claims. Of the amount, Leong received a total of about $77,500, which he spent on personal expenses.

In late 2017, Leong gathered the four friends at a law firm to discuss returning the money to Spring as he was aware Spring’s auditing processes would eventually reveal his fraud. After the meeting, Soh consulted her lawyer and lodged a police report, admitting her role in the conspiracy. She did not consult Leong before lodging the report.

All the five persons involved in the fraud have made full restitution to Spring. Leong’s four friends have not been dealt with by the court.

In sentencing Leong, District Judge Mathew Joseph noted that as the mastermind of the scheme, he had abused the trust placed in him by his employer.

Leong also played a crucial role due to his knowledge of the ICV scheme, said the judge.

For cheating, Leong could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined on each count. For forgery in order to cheat, he could have also been jailed up to 10 years and fined.