SINGAPORE — A 73-year-old woman who kept helping a scammer receive money, even after the police had warned her against it, was jailed seven months on Thursday (4 March).
Jeanne Jennie Aw Soh Tin continued on at least 19 occasions to receive the money, amounting to around $300,000. In all, she cheated from at least six victims for a person known as "Vincent".
Aw, who appeared in court with a walking stick and appeared to hobble, pleaded guilty to three out of 19 charges of receiving proceeds of criminal conduct, which are breaches of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act. The remaining charges were taken into consideration for her sentencing by District Judge Teoh Ai Lin, who also considered her age and plea of guilt.
The elderly lady was permitted to sit down in the dock, due to a bony growth on her left heel that caused her pain. She could be heard crying throughout the proceedings.
Her lawyers, Cory Wong and Josephus Tan from Invictus Law, said that Aw, herself a victim of a scam, had fallen for the scammer's web of lies.
"Our client shared with us that she is a very pious Catholic. She cannot bear to see people suffer in poverty, and this was previously what the scammer used to ensnare her in a web of lies. This case really brings to fore the plight of senior citizens like our client," said Wong.
Previously a "corporate high flyer" in a Japanese bank, Aw now works two jobs as a hotel server and kitchen helper in a Japanese restaurant in a bid to keep herself afloat, said her lawyers. She had lost all her retirement savings to scammers. She has two adult children who work overseas.
While previously estranged from them, the court case has since brought the family closer, the lawyer told the court.
Did not heed police advice to stop assisting scammer in 2017
Aw was befriended by Vincent in 2016 online over Facebook and agreed to receive and remit money to him on his instructions.
A police report was made against her account by a victim in December 2016, with the victim alleging that payments had been made to her account for a loan which never materialised.
On 30 August 2017, Aw was interviewed by a police officer, who told her that Vincent was a scammer. The officer told her to stop assisting Vincent, and she was also issued an advisory.
However, Aw remained in contact with Vincent and opened another account to assist him receive and remit money.
One victim had borrowed money from unlicensed moneylenders and was instructed by the loansharks to repay her debts to Aw's OCBC account. On 20 October 2017, the victim transferred $30,000 to the account.
Aw was then instructed to withdraw the money and pass them to Vincent's worker, who met her in a Malaysian-registered van.
In August 2017, another victim was cheated into lending money to a scammer whom he met through an online application. The scammer had asked for money to start a business in Singapore and promised to return the loan to the victim. The victim transferred a total of $100,000 to Aw's account on two occasions in October 2017. Aw eventually withdrew the money and passed them to Vincent's worker in the same manner.
Diagnosed with mild psychiatric disorder
The prosecution sought nine months' jail for Aw.
Mitigating for the elderly lady, Wong submitted a psychiatric report from Raffles Hospital that diagnosed Aw with a "mild neurocognitive disorder suggestive of signs of senile dementia".
"This is really what scammers used to condition her into an unwitting money mule. She did not personally know any of these runners or scammers, (and) there is no evidence to suggest she pocketed a single dollar and lined own pockets with that," said Wong.
Replying to the defence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Haniza Abnass said that her medical report was based on her current mental capabilities and was not indicative of her state of mind at the time of the offences.
A clarification from the Institute of Mental Health states that mild neurocognitive disorder was a risk factor of dementia but was not always a precursor of the illness. Her symptoms had to be addressed before she could be diagnosed, the DPP added.
DJ Teoh noted that Aw had not benefitted financially, but added that the offences were serious.
For her offence, Aw could have been jailed up to 10 years, or fined up to $500,000, or both.
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