Singapore woman jailed six years after embezzling S$1.3m to get ‘gift’ parcel from love scammer

Among several sums of money she misappropriated, Liew Bee Yee once transferred S$60,000 from her company's account to her personal account, withdrew the money and deposited it into a United Overseas Bank account. — AFP file pic
Among several sums of money she misappropriated, Liew Bee Yee once transferred S$60,000 from her company's account to her personal account, withdrew the money and deposited it into a United Overseas Bank account. — AFP file pic

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SINGAPORE, Mar 11 — Over a span of three months, Liew Bee Yee took advantage of her access to two companies’ bank accounts to siphon more than S$1.3 million.

The accounts manager used the cash to secure a parcel — purportedly containing jewellery, branded goods and €370,000 (S$592,000) — sent to her by an online friend known only as Benjamin.

However, he turned out to be a scammer and she never got the parcel.

Liew, 43, was jailed six years on Wednesday (March 10). The Singaporean woman pleaded guilty to one count of criminal breach of trust as a servant.

She had misappropriated the monies on 33 occasions, funnelling them from one company’s bank account to another to cover her tracks. She also recorded false information in the transaction details such as “business expenses”.

At the time in 2019, she worked for electrical components supplier McCoy and distributor iConnexion Asia, which are related companies.

Among other duties, she was handling financial accounting, human resource matters, employees’ pay and administrative matters.

She was first entrusted with McCoy’s bank account and a line of credit it had with Western Union. When a colleague went on maternity leave, she took over iConnexion’s as well.

She was also given bank tokens to authorise transactions over internet banking.

Felt ‘happy and greedy’

In August 2019, Liew befriended Benjamin online and they began chatting over WhatsApp. He asked her to be his girlfriend but she rejected him, saying she already had a boyfriend.

They continued to keep in touch. He told her that he was a pilot and had flown to Paris, then promised her that she would receive a parcel from him containing gifts and money.

On Aug 23, she initially declined his offer of a parcel from Paris with cash inside. Then, out of curiosity and upon his persuasion, she gave him McCoy’s company address to deliver the parcel.

He gave her a tracking number and told her the cash in the parcel would be enough to pay for the taxes on it.

Three days later, someone who called himself Kian contacted her on WhatsApp, saying that he was from “Open Wings Global Express Service”.

Kian told her to make payment because the parcel was overweight, so she withdrew S$3,600 of her own savings and deposited the cash in a United Overseas Bank (UOB) account.

Liew then asked Benjamin what he had sent her, and he told her that the parcel contained 370,000 euros in cash.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Emily Koh told the court: “Upon learning of this, the accused felt happy and greedy Later on, Benjamin also told her that there were other branded items and jewellery in the parcel.”

Lied to boss

After that, Kian told Liew that she would have to pay more money for taxes and other expenses.

She then purportedly withdrew another S$8,500 of her savings before deciding to misappropriate money from McCoy’s bank account to pay the balance.

She authorised a S$12,800 payment to the UOB account provided by Kian, which went unnoticed.

The next day, Kian said she had to deposit another S$60,000 for Goods and Services Tax. She then transferred the sum from McCoy’s account to her personal account, withdrew the money and deposited it into the UOB account.

Some days later, Kian again said that she had to pay S$105,000 for storage and insurance.

She proceeded to draw on S$100,000 of McCoy’s credit facilities with Western Union, which was credited to her personal bank account, and transferred the remaining S$5,000 from McCoy’s bank account to hers.

Kian continued to ask her to pay S$80,000 for security purposes, then a further S$60,000 the next day.

Wanting to hide what she was doing, she transferred the two sums from McCoy’s bank account to a dormant DBS bank account belonging to a related company.

She then transferred the cash into accounts with OCBC bank and UOB that Kian provided her.

When a director of iConnexion received a phone text message notification from DBS about the transaction, Liew claimed that it was for Western Union currency conversions and that the amount had been debited into McCoy’s bank account.

S$1 million lost

In September 2019, Liew took over iConnexion’s bank account, using it to make further payments on Kian’s demands.

She also took about S$50,000 through iConnexion’s credit facilities with Western Union.

In all, she deposited S$1.3 million in a total of 11 different bank accounts that Kian provided.

Later that month, while the iConnexion director was overseas, he received a call from Western Union asking for repayments. Liew then claimed that it was a misunderstanding and said it would be settled, believing that she could make the repayments after receiving Benjamin’s parcels.

But when Western Union called back to say the money had been transferred to Liew’s personal account, she admitted to the misappropriation. The director then made a police report.

Liew has since made partial restitution of S$170,000, while the police seized about S$32,000 from the 11 bank accounts. This leaves about S$1 million lost.

Western Union has taken legal action against McCoy and iConnexion.

‘Simple, naive, unsophisticated’

DPP Koh sought seven years’ jail, noting that Liew had abused her significant position of trust.

“The fact that she was deceived by scammers does not reduce her culpability. Ultimately, she was motivated by greed and not by need, in the hope of getting a reward,” she said, adding that McCoy and iConnexion have “suffered a tremendous loss”.

Liew’s lawyers, Genith Lim and Simon Tan, said in mitigation that she made whatever restitution she could and did not enjoy any personal benefit.

Liew had a “genuine belief” that she could return the money once she received the parcel. She had fallen prey to a scam due to her “simple, naive and unsophisticated” nature, the lawyers added.

When Benjamin first approached her, she fell in love with him and was “blindsided”, Tan told the court.

“She thought he would come, like a knight in shining armour, to resolve it. She even booked a taxi to meet him at the airport and even wanted to book accommodation for him. That’s how naive she was.

“Your Honour, this is a love scam gone wrong While the company has suffered grievously from her indiscretion, from her perspective, she never intended at any time to cause any mischief,” the lawyer added.

She is still unmarried and has a partner now, Tan said.

However, District Judge Ng Peng Hong noted that Liew’s offence clearly warranted the sentencing principles of retribution and deterrence.

For criminal breach of trust as a servant, she could have been jailed up to 15 years and fined. — TODAY

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