SINGAPORE — A man who illegally loaned money to 19 Filipino domestic helpers over nearly two years was jailed for two years, six weeks and fined $240,000 on Wednesday (25 November).
Tan Boon Teck, 61, who took over the business from a Filipino acquaintance, would charge an interest rate of 20 per cent a month and earned $1,500 a month from his illicit endeavours.
The Singaporean enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Shirley Cansino Eustaquio, a Filipina domestic helper, to disburse loans and collect repayments.
Shirley was repatriated to her home country after she was sentenced to eight weeks’ jail and fined $60,000 for her role in the business. She pleaded guilty to two charges of assisting Tan in carrying out his illicit operation on 16 July last year.
Sentencing Tan, District Judge Marvin Bay noted that he had disbursed loans to domestic helpers, who were a vulnerable class of people with limited means of obtaining credit and who would be susceptible to exploitation.
Tan pleaded guilty on Wednesday to eight charges of unlicensed moneylending with 10 remaining charges taken into consideration for sentencing.
Starting the business in July 2017, Tan would issue the loans in the form of cash to the maids in person. In total, Tan disbursed $3,900 in loans.
He would conduct his business on Sundays, when the domestic helpers usually had their off days, in the vicinity of malls along Orchard Road, such as Ngee Ann City, ION Orchard and Lucky Plaza. He became known by names such as “Uncle” or “Kuya” or “Mr Bean”.
Tan would require the maids to make repayments of their loans – ranging from $300 to $500 – in cash and also in person. He would also obtain photocopies of his debtors’ passports, work permits, and contact details.
Charging a monthly interest rate of 20 per cent, Tan would initially deduct a sum equivalent to the 20 per cent of a loan amount upfront prior to providing the loan. The debtor would have to make the interest repayments monthly until she could make a one-time repayment of the principal sum in full.
In November 2018, Tan did away with upfront deductions and decided that the loan and interest would be made by monthly instalments, subject to late payment fees.
The maids, who learned of Tan through word of mouth, would go to him when they needed funds for friends or family back home. One took up a loan for her granddaughter’s medical expenses. All earned a monthly salary of $600 to $800.
Asking for a jail term of at least 30 months’, Deputy Public Prosecutor Pavithra Ramkumar said that Tan had charged an exorbitant interest rate, which was five times prescribed under the rules for legal moneylenders. The rate was even more extortionate when viewed against the salary of the domestic helpers, who were a vulnerable class of workers.
Tan had known that his business was illegal but proceeded with it anyway.
Replying to a mitigating point by Tan’s lawyer, Jayakumar Naidu, who suggested that Shirley was the mastermind of the endeavour, DPP Pavithra said that this was “not borne out by investigations”. While Tan took all the profit, Shirley was not paid in any way.
Jayakumar told the court that his client had not advertised himself as a moneylender, but Shirley had helped him as his “mouthpiece”.
The two dated from 2012, with Shirley often visiting Tan’s home. Tan provided financial aid to Shirley, who was married and had children back home. The lawyer also objected to characterising the endeavour as a syndicated operation, calling it “far-fetched”.
He added that Tan’s mother was wheelchair bound, with Tan as her sole care provider.
DJ Bay cited a need to curb illegal moneylending, which was “an unquestionably lucrative activity where offenders hope to net enormous gains from relatively modest outlays of cash”.
For carrying out the business of unlicensed moneylending, Tan could have been jailed up to four years, and fined between $30,000 and $300,000. For a first time offender, he could have been given six strokes of the cane.
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