Malaysian accountant jailed nearly 26 years in Singapore for embezzling S$41m from clients to feed gambling addiction

Ewe Pang Kooi, a certified public accountant and liquidator who siphoned about S$41 million from various clients over a decade, was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months’ jail. — TODAY file pic
Ewe Pang Kooi, a certified public accountant and liquidator who siphoned about S$41 million from various clients over a decade, was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months’ jail. — TODAY file pic

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SINGAPORE, July 16 — A certified public accountant and liquidator who siphoned about S$41 million (RM124.1 million) from various clients over a decade, all to feed his “insatiable appetite for gambling”, was sentenced to 25 years and 10 months’ jail today.

Ewe Pang Kooi, a Malaysian and Singapore permanent resident, was found guilty in March of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent — the most aggravated form of the offence under the Penal Code, which can attract a life sentence.

Ewe’s is the first such case since the landmark City Harvest Church ruling last year, which clarified that the offence of criminal breach of trust as an agent applies only to people who make a living by offering services as agents.

Ewe’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, told the court that he will appeal against the conviction and sentence. Ewe had claimed trial to the charges solely on the argument that he was not entrusted with the money in the way of his business as an agent.

Today in the High Court, Justice Chan Seng Onn used graphs and charts to plot out past sentences for similar cases and to explain the reasoning behind his sentencing.

The judge took into account the fact that Ewe cooperated fully with investigations, and had made restitution of S$17 million.

He also noted that with remission, the 65-year-old could be released before he passes away.

“It is hoped that he will use this lifeline wisely, and use whatever time he has remaining (whether in prison or otherwise) to strive to make amends and reflect on the extreme gravity of his wrongdoing and the serious monetary harm he has caused to all the clients who had fully entrusted him with their monies,” Justice Chan noted.

Ewe’s lawyer asked for his client to remain out on bail in the meantime, but Justice Chan rejected the request and ordered Ewe to begin serving his jail time.

Placed S$150,000 bets

Senior Counsel Khoo had sought 12 to 18 years’ jail, while prosecutors argued for a jail term of 30 years.

The lawyer had told the court in May that Ewe grew up in a gambling environment in Malaysia, helping his father to collect betting slips for his illegal operation from the age of six.

This led to a lifelong affinity for gambling, which spiralled into an addiction when he began practising accountancy, the lawyer said.

He had worked as a dealer in Genting Highlands Resorts after completing secondary school in Penang, and continued doing so in Newcastle, England while studying accountancy.

From February 2002, he began taking his clients’ money to feed his habit, settle debts or reinstate amounts he had pocketed.

Ewe blew the money on cruise ships and the two casinos at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands, and had to sell his apartment. He began placing S$150,000 bets, as he could not “get a kick” out of betting a few thousand dollars.

It was only in July 2012 that his crimes came to light — after he confessed to an employee of one of his clients, technology company Hewlett Packard (HP).

This was after he tried to use part of the money he had pocketed from HP to repay what he had taken from other companies.

“It appears his gambling addiction... took a life of its own and clouded his judgement, and that he did not see a way out but to indulge in gambling to stay afloat,” Ewe’s psychiatrist said in his report.

Nevertheless, Justice Chan ultimately did not view this as a mitigating factor.

In response to the psychiatrist’s report, Deputy Public Prosecutors Hon Yi and Nicholas Khoo said that Ewe could have chosen to gamble within his means or borrow money from others. He had also lived in a “permanent” hotel room at Sentosa through his “extravagant betting”.

What he did

Ewe was the managing partner of accounting firm Ewe Loke & Partners (ELP) and director of E&M Management Consultants. The latter provided financial consulting and corporate restructuring services.

He pocketed money from 21 companies he was supposed to liquidate, six of which were subsidiaries of HP. He also pocketed funds from two entities whose finances he was supposed to manage.

As an appointed liquidator, he was able to transfer clients’ assets into bank accounts for which he was an authorised signatory, and that was what he did for the 21 companies he liquidated.

Ewe did the same for the assets of an individual, Prem Ramchand Harjani.

He took control of Harjani’s assets on behalf of security brokerage firm Merrill Lynch Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and he “misused” almost S$680,000 of the man’s money, said the prosecution.

When he was appointed as one of the signatories of a company called Technology Partners International, which had outsourced financial management services to E&M from 2007, Ewe also made withdrawals and deposits without seeking the firm’s approval.

By July 2012, he had incurred a net loss of S$180,000 for Technology Partners International. — TODAY

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