By Nureza Ahmad written on 05-Apr-2004
National Library Board Singapore
Comments on article: InfopediaTalk
On 2 April 2004, Chia Teck Leng was sentenced to 42 years in jail, the longest jail term meted out for the largest case in commercial fraud in Singapore to date. Chia was a finance manager at Asia Pacific Breweries when he forged documents to swindle banks out of S$117 million over four years to feed his gambling addiction. Previously, the worst commercial fraud case was held by Singapore Airlines' employee Teo Cheng Kiat, who embezzled S$35 million from the airline for over 13 years. He was convicted in 2000 and jailed for 24 years for the crime.
Chia was an accountancy graduate who began his career at the, now-defunct accounting and consultancy firm, Arthur Andersen. He moved on, attaining several top positions in various companies including the post of assistant vice-president at the United Overseas Bank, a mergers-and-acquisitions manager at Jack Chia-MPH and a financial controller at Swire Pacific Offshore Services. He then joined Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) on 20 January 1999 as its finance manager. APB is considered one of the region's largest breweries with sales of $372.7 million and an after-tax profit of $38.6 million in 2001. The job required him to travel and paid him a tidy salary of between $200,000 and $300,000 a year.
By all accounts, Chia, 44, was said to be a non-descript, mid-level executive who got along well with his colleagues. He lived with his wife, a teacher, and their two teenage sons in a St Francis Lodge condominium, off Serangoon Road. Little did his colleagues and family knew that the hard-working executive Chia was leading a double life. Chia was a frequent patron of casinos in Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Cambodia and the Philippines. He was so well- known in some casinos that the casino operators would personally invite him to their betting halls and fly him there in their private jets. He was known to get the VIP treatment at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, and even stayed in its most expensive room costing A$25,000 a night on his visits there. The gambler Chia even had a Chinese national girlfriend, 23 year old, Li Jin, whom he considered his lucky charm.
Chia had been a habitual gambler since 1994. Over the years, he swung from being plunged deep into gambling debts to winning large sums of money. However, his luck turned for the worse in 1998. In a two-week gambling spree, he lost all his previous winnings of $1 million, and chalked up new debts. By the time he joined APB in 1999, he was heavily indebted.
Chia was accused of forging documents, cheating several banks over a period of four years, between February 1999 to March 2003. The forged documents, known as certified extracts of board resolutions, deceived the banks into extending him credit and loan facilities in the name of APB, with him as the sole signatory. He forged signatures of top APB executives, like its chief executive Koh Poh Tiong, and then-Fraser and Neave's managing director, Tan Yam Pin. Fraser and Neave owns 37.9 % of APB.
Chia was arrested on 2 September 2003 by the Commercial Affairs Department. He was first charged in court on 4 September, on two counts, one of cheating and one of forgery involving S$3 million. He was first accused of cheating a Scandinavian bank, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB) in February 1999 of giving him $3 million in credit. As investigations continued, more charges were levelled against him.
By 11 September 2003, he faced eight new charges. He was accused of cheating four banks into giving him a total credit of about S$113 million; one Scandinavian bank, two Japanese banks, and one German bank.
On 17 September 2003, 18 more charges were added on. These included new charges of money withdrawals from banks, such as US$25 million from SEB, and US$10 million from Sakura Bank.
On 24 September, he was charged with four more counts of forgery. This time of opening a schedule of fixed deposit with Citibank, and transferring legitimate funds from APB's OCBC bank account to the fictitious Citibank account.
Thus, Chia faced 32 charges by the end of September. He was also denied bail in October, fearing he would abscond if released as he was known to have overseas personal bank accounts of which he had refused to divulge details to investigators. The charges against him did not abate and on 5 December 2003, 14 new charges were added to the existing 32, bringing the total number of charges against Chia to 46.
The 46 charges comprised 14 charges of forgery and 18 of cheating four foreign banks of about S$117 million, four charges of criminal breach of trust of S$53 million, two of money-laundering, and eight of abetting his girlfriend, Li Jin, to use a forged passport. Li, purportedly used the forged Taiwanese passport to enter and leave Singapore between November 2002 and January 2003. With the embezzled money, Chia was said to have led a high-spending lifestyle, lavishly buying branded goods for himself, his girlfriend and his friends. For instance, he bought a $150,000 Mercedes Benz, a $530,000 apartment in Grange Road, and gave gifts totalling more than $300,000 to various people.
With these 46 charges facing Chia, he was ordered to stand trial in the High Court on 26 March 2004 in what is considered the biggest case of financial fraud in the history of Singapore.
On 2 April 2004, Chia was convicted by the High Court after pleading guilty to six charges of forgery and eight charges of cheating. Another 32 charges were considered during sentencing. High Court Judge Tay Yong Kwang sentenced him to 42 years in jail, the longest jail term ever given out for a commercial crime. In all, Chia had swindled the banks of more than S$117 million, losing S$62 million in casinos around the world. Only S$34.8 million has so far been recovered.
Judge Tay noted how Chia had managed to deceive banks undetected over a period of four years, reiterating the prosecution's stand that Chia's crime was the work of a "criminal genius". He dismissed Chia's mitigating plea that the banks were the ones who had approached him first, offering to lend him cash; that the banks had been too naive, trusting and negligent, making it easy for him to commit the crimes. Judge Tay emphasised that bankers are eager to forge business relationships, and not be the unwitting victims of forgery. Judge Tay had also presided over the case of commercial fraud by Singapore Airlines' employee, Teo Cheng Kiat which had previously been regarded as the worst case of commercial fraud.
Ex-brewery exec may plead guilty. (2004, March 5). The Straits Times.
Ho, K. (2003, September 25). Brewery man slapped with four more charges. The Straits Times.
Lee, S. S. (2003, September 5). APB exec charged with forging papers. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2003, September 18). Brewery man charged with pocketing $117m. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2003, September 11). Brewery man now faces charges totaling $116m. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2003, October 2). $30m found, no bail for brewery man. The Straits Times.
Tan, C. (2003, September 6). $30m scam? Brewery man held over huge alleged fraud. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2003, December 13). Passport lands execs woman friend in court. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2003, December 6). APB exec allegedly hid $11m in Swiss accounts. The Straits Times.
Vijayan, K.C. (2003, October 18). $230m in brewery mans casino account. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2004, April 3). Brewery man gets 42 years. The Straits Times.
Lum, S. (2004, March 12). She was brewery mans good luck charm. The Straits Times.
Menon, A. (2004, April 3). Gamble that went wrong. The Straits Times.
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.