SINGAPORE, April 20 — A 44-year-old man involved in a transnational syndicate that scammed high net-worth individuals by using shell companies set up in Singapore and the United States was jailed for 12 years and one month yesterday.
Since 2017, Chinese national Wei Yong had worked with four accomplices to dupe 10 businessmen — nine Chinese nationals and one South Korean — into parting with more than S$2.5 million (RM7.75 million) in total.
The group flew them to Singapore and conducted negotiations at a “business office” located at the Marina Bay Financial Centre, the court heard.
Unknown to the victims, the “business office” was just made up of boardrooms and meeting rooms that were leased on a daily-rated basis. Wei and his accomplices, who would be dressed professionally to receive them, were not real fundraisers.
They had rented the office space on an ad-hoc basis to give the impression that they had a credible business presence in Singapore and able to raise substantive investment funds for the victims’ businesses.
Wei, who was an odd-job worker in Hubei and Beijing in China before he joined the syndicate in 2015 or 2016, pleaded guilty to five charges yesterday.
They included four counts of cheating and one count under the Passport Act as he was found with a fake Myanmar passport that bore his photograph when he was arrested at Changi Airport Terminal 1 in November 2019.
Wei admitted to buying the passport for 40,000 yuan (about S$8,000) from a Chinese agent, who had told him that it would allow him to buy houses and land in Myanmar at a cheaper price.
The court heard that in Singapore, Wei was a frequent patron of the casinos at Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa where he gambled away most of his share of criminal proceeds.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Koh Mun Keong said that between May 2015 and November 2019, he had transacted some S$30 million at the casinos.
He added that Wei’s syndicate included Chinese national Li Bin, 48, who is believed to have used the name Li Fangbing here, and three unidentified individuals referred to as Deng Ming Can, Jack and Chan, but none of the four accomplices has been caught yet.
How the scam worked
Several police reports relating to a cross-border investment scam that were linked to the syndicate that Wei was involved in has been made since November 2017.
Its operations looked legitimate to their victims due to the shell companies — two American incorporated entities known as American Ageas PE Fund Inc and Pfizer Private Fund Inc, as well as Nanyang Capital Management Ltd
The victims, who all owned businesses that were based in China, were looking for more capital to expand their businesses.
They happened to approach a China-based agent to help them raise money and were provided with contact details of Wei, who was known as “David” to the victims, as well as of his accomplices.
The victims would be invited to attend talks and workshops on topics relating to finance, investment opportunities and business expansion in China, Singapore and the United States.
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They were later flown to Singapore and invited to the Marina Bay “office”, located on the 11th floor of Marina Bay Financial Centre Tower 1, to sign contracts purporting to be investment agreements.
After the victims returned to China upon signing the fictitious contracts, a member of the syndicate would then contact each of them to provide instructions on how to transfer “administrative fees” using remittance services. These “fees” were said to facilitate the fundraising process.
The victims each paid fees ranging from 100,000 yuan to 2.65 million yuan, thinking that the investment funds raised would be far more substantial than the amount of administrative fees paid, DPP Koh said.
The members of the syndicate would then become unreachable after a while.
On the day that Wei was arrested, he had made arrangements to visit Myanmar to test whether the fake passport could be used by him to enter Singapore during his return trip.
The plan was to leave Singapore for Myanmar using his Chinese passport and re-enter Singapore using the fake passport, but he was placed under arrest when he was using his Chinese passport to clear immigration procedures.
When sentencing Wei, District Judge Marvin Bay called the plot that he was part of a “brazen financial scam” and said that there is a need to deal decisively with scams of this nature.
The judge also noted that the scheme latched on to Singapore being a safe and reliable financial hub for commercial dealings and business transactions.
“There is an element of reputational risk when such scams are perpetuated in this country, which would necessitate sentences that are sufficiently severe to serve as fitting deterrents for like-minded individuals, who might be tempted to emulate Wei’s path of criminality,” he said.
Wei could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each cheating charge.
He could have been jailed for up to another 10 years or fined up to S$10,000, or both, for possessing the fake passport. — TODAY