A former grassroots volunteer who used Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s name to cheat a dozen victims of about $1.4 million was sentenced to eight years’ jail on Thursday (17 May).
Reichie Chng Teck Kiam, 51, pleaded guilty to 30 charges for cheating, forgery, and money laundering at the State Courts on the same day. Over 120 other similar charges were taken into consideration.
Chng’s scam began on 24 November 2012 and ended only when Ong found out about Chng’s activities and made a police report on 22 March last year, said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Vikneswaran Kumaran in court. The money was largely used to fund Chng’s gambling habit.
Ten of Chng’s victims knew him through his grassroots activities at Kaki Bukit Constituency where he was a volunteer from 2011 to 2015. Ong used to be the constituency’s adviser before being elected as a Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC in September 2015 and appointed to the Cabinet in October 2015.
Chng claimed to be raising funds for an investment scheme involving Ong and his wife, telling his victims that they would get monthly returns of 3 to 8 per cent. He also forged “Business Loan Agreements”, which his victims signed.
The victims, however, received only $51,800 from Chng over the years and started questioning the legitimacy of the investment schemes.
To allay their concerns, Chng sent them screenshots of fake WhatsApp conversations he claimed to have had with Ong.
To pull off this ruse, Chng, who already had his own WhatsApp account, set up a new one with a separate phone line. He Ong’s photo as a profile picture for the second account. Chng then sent messages from his own account to the new one to make it seem as if he was in conversation with Ong.
Chng also claimed to have an investment agreement worth about $15 million with Ong’s wife. To that end, he forged and showed a fake document to his victims.
Ong came to know about the issue when one of Chng’s victims asked the politician about it. Ong made a police report soon after.
Chng also faced at least five charges of money laundering for converting more than $131,000 in cash into chips at the Marina Bay Sands casino between April 2016 and February last year. Most of the money he converted had been earned from cheating.
He also faced another charge of cheating a victim who had borrowed $250,000 to help Chng, who claimed he had a bank loan that he needed to repay immediately.
Chng is “undoubtedly a serial cheat” said Vikneswaran, who asked for at least an eight-year jail term. The prosecutor also noted that Chng had been jailed for three months in 1998 for corruption offences.
In mitigation, Defense Counsel Sinnadurai T Maniam said his client had “stayed clear of all other offences” in the 20 years since.
Furthermore, Chng was remorseful and had cooperated with the authorities, said Sinnadurai. Without the information he willingly gave, it would have been “difficult” for investigators to get to the bottom of the “complicated” financial issues, added the lawyer.
District Judge Ng Peng Hong noted in his sentencing that Chng had “exploited his position as a grassroots” volunteer.
Chng could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined for each of his cheating charges.
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