A former senior executive of a Ministry of Trade and Industry statutory board, SPRING Singapore, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment in the State Courts on Mon (18 Mar) after he was found guilty of committing forgery using the agency’s name since 2015.
Earlier this year, Leong Weng Cheou, 46, pleaded guilty to 18 counts of forgery and 12 counts of cheating, with an additional 105 charges of the same vein being taken into consideration during sentencing.
District Judge Mathew Joseph, in delivering his judgement, criticised Leong for abusing his position to manipulate the Innovation and Capability Voucher scheme (ICV) for his own benefit, and observed that Leong’s scam involved “extensive planning”.
“It’s also vital that public funds are seen by all government employees as a precious and scarce resource so as to promote accountability and good governance within the Government,” added the judge.
Under the ICV’s “disbursement” scheme, small and medium-sized enterprises are entitled to receive up to two vouchers worth $5,000 each to “encourage innovation”, should their online application succeed in obtaining SPRING Singapore’s approval for the purpose of purchasing items or services from a solution provider.
An invoice and a proof of payment from the solution provider must be attached to the applicant’s disbursement claim in the event that the applicant has purchased an item or a service in advance, following SPRING Singapore’s approval of its online application.
Leong was tasked to assess such applications and claims, and had thus manipulated the scheme by fraudulently disbursing money to shell corporations, which are corporations that do not operate actively or own significant assets, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew.
One of four co-conspirators lodged police report regarding scam, will plead guilty in court on Friday
Channel NewsAsia reported that Leong conspired with four other Singaporeans, namely Lionel Wong Yong Jun, Soh Eng Luan, Mary Heah Hwee Hoong, and Wong Ping Ling, and had taught his four friends ways to register the shell entities with the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority.
The court heard that Leong had even informed them that the supporting documents for the ICV claims, which included more than 100 documents including fake quotations, invoices, receipts and bank statements, would be forged.
As a result of his forgery, Leong had managed to fraudulently disburse S$154,999.63 for 31 claims in 2015 and 2016, distributing the full sum equally among his co-conspirators and saving S$77,500 for himself.
At the end of 2017, however, Leong discussed with his co-conspirators about returning the monies, fearing that SPRING Singapore’s auditors would have discovered the “anomaly” in the ICV disbursements.
Consequently, Soh decided to seek legal counsel and had filed a police report regarding the scam without Leong’s knowledge, in addition to admitting that she was one of Leong’s co-conspirators in the scam.
She is set to plead guilty before the courts on Friday, while cases for the other three co-conspirators are pending.
All five of the conspirators had repaid the money to SPRING in full after the previous investigations, CNA reported.
Agency implemented “stringent controls covering the different stages of the grant process”
SPRING Singapore, now known as Enterprise Singapore after SPRING Singapore’s merger with International Enterprise Singapore, told The Straits Times that it has implemented “stringent controls covering the different stages of the grant process from vendor qualification and selection, to evaluation of application and authentication of applicants, to the verification of claim submission and disbursement.
“These are supplemented by regular audits and enhanced through data analytics for early fraud detection,” added Enterprise Singapore.
An Enterprise Singapore spokesperson told ST that the agency regularly reviews its systems and processes as a means to improve its fraud risk management system.
Section 420 of the Penal Code stipulates that the maximum sentence for cheating and dishonestly inducing a delivery of property, including the act of making or altering “the whole or any part of a valuable security, or anything which is signed or sealed, and which is capable of being converted into a valuable security” is 10 years’ imprisonment with a fine — a sentence which Leong could have been originally subjected to.