Man who fled to Malaysia for 21 years over forgery charges pleads guilty

Wan Ting Koh
Reporter
Singapore’s State Courts. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

After being on the run for more than two decades over multiple forgery charges, he gave himself up as he wanted to return home to take care of his cancer-stricken father.

Now 46, Tan Say Wee, who fathered two daughters while he was a fugitive in Malaysia, was arrested by Singapore authorities upon his return last August.

On Wednesday (10 January), Tan pleaded guilty to four counts of forgery for the purpose of cheating and four counts of abetting the same offences.

Tan was 24 years old when he forged documents for the purpose of cheating several financial institutions and the Inland Revenue of Authority (Iras). He followed the instructions of a friend, William Chiah Wee Ming, who suggested that they applied for credit cards with the particulars of those they managed to obtain. Chiah is still at large.

For Tan, another 10 counts of abetting forgery for the purpose of cheating will be taken into consideration for his sentence.

The court heard that for the conspiracy, Tan obtained the particulars of Teo Choon Huat, Teng Kin Leng and Ang Swee Lian through several documents sometime in February 1996. The particulars included the trio’s NRIC, addresses and signatures.

With the particulars, Tan filled in and signed applications for credit cards. Tan would also draft letters of authorisation, which were then used to obtain Notice of Assessments (NOA) from Iras. These NOAs would be used to facilitate the application of credit cards. Tan would also drive Chiah to collect the NOA and credit cards.

Chiah would pay Tan a few hundred dollars for each time he provided personal details. Chiah would also use the ill-gotten credit cards to pay for the petrol of Tan’s car and for meals at restaurants.

On his own, Tan also used the name and particulars of an uncle to apply for a supplementary card, as his father had taken his away.

Tan was caught when he tried to apply for a Diners Club card on Chiah’s instruction in early August 1996. On 29 August, Tan engaged a courier to collect the card and deliver it to him at Toa Payoh Central Post Office as he wanted to avoid detection.

However, unknown to Tan, Diners Club had detected the fraud and contacted Teo to confirm the application for a credit card. Teo informed Diners Club that his particulars were used without his consent.

On 30 August 1996, staff from Diners Club accompanied the courier to meet Tan at Toa Payoh Central Post Office. When Tan saw that the courier was with a person, who was a Diners Club staff member, he felt a sense of misgiving and tried to escape without collecting the card. He was detained by the Diners Club staff, who then called the police.

In all, Tan forged 12 applications for credit facilities from financial institutions including OUB Bank, Diners Club, HongKong Bank and American Express. Of these applications, six were successful. Tan and Chiah then used these cards to incur charges amounting to close to $35,000.

Iras was also deceived into delivering four NOAs to Tan and Chiah.

Tan was charged on 31 August 1996 for the offences and was offered bail. However, he never showed up for his scheduled court case on 8 November 1996. Instead, he paid a private taxi operator $300 to drive him into Malaysia where he remained for the next two decades.

Tan turned himself in on 28 August last year, when he returned to Woodlands Checkpoint. He was arrested and produced in court the next day.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) David Koh, who called for a jail term of 36 months, said that Tan’s escape was an aggravating factor. The DPP added that the fraud was “not a simple scheme” but involved sophisticated planning and premeditation.

Tan’s lawyer, Choo Si Sen, said that his client admitted that he was “foolhardy” and “immature” in jumping bail.

While Tan was a fugitive in Malaysia, he had operated a coffeestall and fathered two daughters with a woman he cohabited with. Then, Tan had felt that it was “his duty” to care for his daughters “as a doting father”, Choo said.

“After he discharged his duties when both of them had grown up as adults and could fend for themselves, he then decided to return to Singapore,” said Choo.

Tan had also heard last August that his father was suffering from lung cancer and so “was determined to return to Singapore to look after his father for the last few years of his life as a filial son”, added Choo.

Seeking a sentence of 24 months for Tan, Choo said his client had played a minor role in the offences as compared to Chiah who was the mastermind.

Tan will be sentenced on 17 January.

For forgery for the purpose of cheating, Tan can be jailed up to 10 years and fined on each count.