Estate agent who referred client to moneylender gets fine reduced

Published: 4:04 AM, June 19, 2014

SINGAPORE — A former property agent, who was the first to have been prosecuted for moneylending offences under the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), has succeeded in his appeal to have his fine reduced by S$10,000 to S$8,000.

At the Magistrates’ Appeal hearing yesterday, Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon agreed with the defence’s submission that the S$18,000 fine imposed on Ghazali Mohamed Rasul had been disproportionately high.

He also said the starting point for the quantum imposed by the district judge, who had relied on cases relating to unregistered estate agents performing the work of an estate agent, may not have been “entirely appropriate”. Those cases had a sentencing range of between S$6,000 and S$8,000.

In 2011, Ghazali, 40, then a registered agent with PropNex Realty, received a S$150 kickback from a moneylender whom he had introduced to a client who was facing financial difficulties and wanted to sell his flat.

Ghazali was charged with two counts of moneylending offences under the CEA, and four other similar charges were taken into consideration.

In its written submissions on sentencing, the CEA had urged the district judge to impose a deterrent sentence of a fine of S$15,000 and two weeks in prison for each charge. It said salespersons who referred their clients to moneylenders cause serious social problems, which are aggravated for low-income clients who have little choice but to sell their homes to repay the high-interest loans. Such “underhand tactics” also bring disrepute to the industry, it said.

However, Ghazali’s lawyers Derek Kang and Andrea Gan said in written submissions that he had “absolutely no payment or commission arrangements” with the moneylender and that the payments received had been offered to him.

Mr Kang also argued that the amount involved in the case — two payments of S$150 — was “extremely modest”. He said Ghazali, who was called in for one offence, had not only pleaded guilty from the outset but also voluntarily disclosed that he had made similar referrals to three other clients and “effectively helped” build the prosecution’s case against himself.

Mr Kang also said Ghazali, who is now a taxi driver, is “living in the shadow of his mistake” and making a “much more basic living” while having to raise two young children and support his elderly parents.