The Straits Times
Published on Jun 08, 2014
$1m gone in one year: Widow of killed Changi Airport worker is now broke
Two years ago, after her husband was killed in a freak accident while working at Changi Airport's Budget Terminal, she received nearly $1 million in insurance payouts and donations from the public.
Today, that money is all gone.
Madam Pusparani Mohan, 34, is now looking for work in Singapore to support her four young children back in Johor Baru.
"I made a mistake. People knew I had so much money and they all came to me. I am so stupid. I never buy house and finished all the money meant for my children," Madam Pusparani told The Sunday Times from her home in Skudai.
She gave some of it away to relatives when she returned to her hometown in Kedah, then spent a portion of it on a holiday in Genting Highlands with her family. She also lost a chunk of it to a bad business investment - all in the span of a year.
"Now I don't have enough for my children's future."
On March 17, 2012, her husband, Mr Chandra Mogan Panjanathan, 34, was operating a floor-scrubbing machine outside the terminal when he was hit by a taxi hijacked by a Chinese national.
The driver is now serving his jail sentence of two years and one month for voluntarily causing hurt in committing robbery.
Donations poured in after the tragic accident was reported in the media. Many sympathised with Madam Pusparani, who was also working as a cleaning supervisor at the airport, for having to raise four children by herself.
The Malaysian couple's youngest daughter was barely three months old then. Today, their children are aged two, seven, 10 and 11.
Changi Airport Group (CAG) helped to collect donations after it received calls from members of the public wanting to help. Madam Pusparani said she is not clear how much was collected, but thinks it could be about $800,000. She also received over $100,000 in insurance payouts, she said.
"The CAG financial adviser advised me to divide the money between myself and my four children. After allocating $200,000 to each of my four children, I was left with $150,000," she said.
She took that $150,000 home to Johor Baru, quitting her job in Singapore, to take care of her children.
A CAG spokesman told The Sunday Times the CAG had arranged for a family counsellor for Madam Pusparani and had also engaged a financial services adviser to help her with the money she received, including setting up an annuity plan for her children.
"I was told not to touch my children's money as it was meant for their future," she said, adding that the financial adviser also suggested she could use the remaining money to set up a small business in Malaysia.
But the money proved too much for Madam Pusparani to manage on her own.
She said she first had to pay off debts of $50,000 - the couple, who made $2,000 a month jointly, had borrowed money from friends to make ends meet.
Then, she decided to invest the remaining $100,000 in her brother's transport business in Kuala Lumpur, thinking it would give her a stable income.
"But I was told the money was only enough to buy one lorry and we needed three lorries. So, I withdrew half of my children's money, which was about $400,000, to buy two more lorries."
Madam Pusparani said CAG was unaware of the withdrawal as the money was kept in an account under her name.
"I was thinking I could put the money back later," said Madam Pusparani, her voice shaking.
The business did make money in the first three months, said Madam Pusparani, who has a Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, the equivalent of an O-level certificate, and who took up accounting as she wanted to manage the business herself.
But in the fourth month, the widow was told that the company was losing money. She said she fell out with her brother eventually and did not recover any of her investment.
Her younger brother, Mr Magan Mohan, 32, a technician, said she blamed the family for encouraging her to invest in the business. Mr Magan said his elder brother's business has since folded.
"Some people think my sister gambled away the money, but she never gambles or drinks. She just got into the wrong business."
In January last year, Madam Pusparani took out the rest of the money meant for her children.
She had no choice, she said.
"I never work, but I have to eat. I also need to take care of my parents. I was living with them and I had to pay for the monthly rental which was about RM1,000. My baby is still young and needs money for milk and pampers," said Madam Pusparani, agitatedly.
"My expenses came up to RM5,000 to RM6,000. Where do I find the money?"
That last $400,000 she withdrew lasted her five months.
By May last year, she was broke.
"I also don't know how I finished (using) the money," she said.
A friend got her a job as an accounts clerk in Johor Baru, earning RM2,000 (S$780) a month.
Today, her employer pays her rent for an old, double-storey terraced house, which her family of five live in. A huge portrait of the late Mr Chandra is the only thing adorning the empty living area. Her children's shoes are torn and worn out; so too are their schoolbags.
The family sleeps on two old mattresses in one of three rooms on the second storey. Clothes are piled up on the floor as they cannot afford a cupboard to keep them in.
"I cannot survive with RM2,000 a month. I am thinking of going to work in Singapore. But I feel ashamed," said Madam Pusparani tearfully.
"I don't know how to explain to the people who donated money to me and my children."