Woman siphoned $1.5m from charity, lost most of it to love scam

·Senior Reporter
·4-min read
The Singapore State Courts. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
The Singapore State Courts. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — An administrative assistant of a charity tasked to fund bank transfers siphoned nearly $1.5 million over two months and later lost most of the stolen funds to a love scam.

Aggiss Tan Shu Han, 36, was jailed six years and seven months on Wednesday (29 July) after she pleaded guilty to one count each of criminal breach of trust as a servant, obstructing the course of justice, and for lying that she had sold off all of the jewellery and luxury bags that she had bought using her ill-gotten gains. Another three charges of a similar nature were considered for her sentencing. 

The Singaporean was then a finance and administrative assistant of The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease Asia, a registered charity. It manages anti-tuberculosis, lung health and non-communicable disease programmes.

Tan was one of the two employees in the Union’s finance team and was paid a monthly salary of $2,500. She was tasked to make payments on behalf of the charity. The other employee was an accountant.

In March 2019, the accountant handed Tan an iBanking token for one of the charity’s bank accounts and was instructed to make fund transfers to the other bank accounts. She was the only one holding on to the token. Even though the accountant asked her to return the token on several occasions, Tan always claimed to have forgotten to bring it to their office. 

To siphon the funds, Tan would log into the charity’s account to submit a fund transfer. She would then send an email to three signatories to ask them to approve the fund transfers. After they approved the transfer, Tan would then use the token to make unauthorised transfers from the account.

Between 4 April and 10 June 2019, Tan managed to pocket $1,008,450 from the bank account over 133 transfers.

Out of this sum, she transferred $797,000 to other persons under the instructions of her purported boyfriend, known as Fred Cheong, supposedly for the release of a parcel containing cash of US$800,000 (S$1,088,496), which was claimed to be detained by Malaysian authorities. Tan knew Cheong through an online dating application, and transferred the monies under his instruction, believing that Cheong would give her the US$800,000. Investigations later revealed that this was a love scam.

She spent the remaining $211,450 on personal expenses, such as buying luxury goods and servicing debts.

Between 3 April and 13 June 2019, Tan also misappropriated US$322,055 from another bank account belonging to the charity through 41 illicit transfers. She lost most of the amount to scam transfers, while spending the remaining on personal expenses.

Her offences were discovered by the accountant on around 13 June 2019, when the latter became worried that Tan had failed to return the token. He decided to call the bank to check the charity's bank account status.

In total, Tan pocketed $1,462,393.30 and did not make any restitution. The police recovered only $225,210.92 in cash and seized luxury goods, leaving the charity with $1,237,182.38 in unmitigated loss. 

Tan was remanded on 20 June 2019 while under investigation. The police allowed her to use her mobile phone to arrange for her daughter’s childcare. However, Tan instead sent a message to a person who had received the misappropriated monies, stating, “If anyone ask I transfer u money juz (sic) say I lend from u dun say is rental”.

Tan did so in a bid to cover up the fact that she was paying rental to the person for her stay at a residential unit. She kept her gold jewellery and luxury bags with the ill-gotten gains at the unit. Tan later deleted the WhatsApp message from her phone intending for the other person to provide false information to police officers.

The person was investigated and had her statement recorded on 21 June 2019. As a result of Tan’s instructions, the person lied in her first statement that she did not recall receiving monies from Tan.

Police officers found Tan’s message to the person, who came clean in her second statement.

On 21 June 2019, while in remand, Tan lied to police officer, claiming that she had sold off all her gold jewellery and luxury bags that she had illicitly bought with the wrongful gains. The items were still in her residence and she did not want the authorities searching the unit.

Police officers still found and seized the gold jewellery and luxury bags in her rental room.

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