Five years’ jail, fine for ex-company director over work-pass scam

He had obtained employment permits for 46 foreign workers to work in two shell companies
Published: 4:00 AM, May 12, 2017

SINGAPORE — A former director of a construction-related firm was sentenced to five years’ jail and fined S$144,000 yesterday for conspiring with others to obtain work passes for foreign workers using shell companies that were not operating.

After claiming trial, Chew Sin Jit, 51, was convicted of 46 charges under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. He was found guilty of abetting by engaging in a conspiracy with other accomplices between May and August 2013 to obtain work passes for 46 foreign workers.

Chew was sentenced to 60 months’ jail, caning, and fined S$138,000. However, as he is above 50 years old and cannot be caned, an additional S$6,000 fine was imposed in lieu of the caning.

The court heard that sometime in May 2013, when Toh Gim Por, a co-accused, told Chew that he wanted to withdraw from the directorship of NCK Construction, the latter hatched a scheme to hire new individuals to be registered as directors, in name only, for the firm.

The role of these people, described in court as “tua pek kong” (grand-uncle), was to sign off the work pass applications in their capacity as directors before submitting the forms to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

To entice people to take up the role, interested individuals would be offered various sums: A monthly income of about S$1,000, S$500 to S$1,500 for every work pass application they sign off on, and a lump sum of between S$20,000 and S$25,000. A woman, identified as Ms Liao Shiyu, was also hired to prepare as well as submit the application forms.

Toh went on to recruit two other individuals, Mr Sim Oon Peng and M Poh Ah Ho, who agreed to be registered as directors of NCK Construction and All Round Builders (ARB). Both firms were shell companies and not operating.

Throughout Mr Sim’s directorship at NCK Construction, he would meet Ms Liao at City Plaza in Geylang Road before signing off on all the application forms filled in by her. Mr Sim told the court that he did so without reading the contents as he was not proficient in the English language.

Prosecutors said Mr Sim was “only a puppet, with just the role of signing off on the applications”. Using this modus operandi, NCK obtained 26 work permit cards.

Similarly, Mr Poh was recruited as a director of ARB in May 2013, and signed off on the applications handed to him by Ms Liao or Toh. In all, ARB obtained 20 work permit cards.

While some of the foreign workers involved in the case could not recognise Chew, others had identified him either as the agent who helped them with their work permit applications or the driver accompanying a woman who collected agency fees.

In the prosecutors’ closing submissions, they noted that Chew had “methodically and deliberately employed (many layers) in order to mask his pivotal role as the mastermind of the crime”.

These included engaging Toh, so that instructions given to Mr Sim and Mr Poh were done through Toh; and employing Ms Liao to deal with administrative matters. Chew also portrayed himself as just a driver, never staying long at both offices.

In her oral grounds of decision, District Judge Crystal Ong said Chew’s defence during the trial was “riddled with lies, inconsistencies and unbelievable coincidences”.

What Chew did was also reprehensible, and a sufficiently stiff deterrent sentence must be imposed, she added.

“For financial gain, these foreign workers are exploited and left to their own devices in Singapore. The manner in which these offences were committed clearly showed a high level of planning on the part of the accused person,” the judge said.

Co-accused Toh was convicted on July 21 last year and sentenced to 40 months’ jail and fined S$15,000.

Ms Liao, Mr Sim and Mr Poh have not been charged and prosecutors are currently deciding on the course of action after this case, said an MOM spokesperson.

Chew told the court that he intends to file an appeal.