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Former UOB vice-president jailed for pocketing about S$5 million from customer

SINGAPORE — Over 10 years, a vice-president at United Overseas Bank (UOB) misappropriated about S$5 million from a customer who believed he was putting the cash into a nominee bank account.

Former UOB vice-president jailed for pocketing about S$5 million from customer
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SINGAPORE — Over 10 years, a vice-president at United Overseas Bank (UOB) misappropriated about S$5 million from a customer who believed he was putting the cash into a nominee bank account.

Ling Shek Lun, 66, instead pumped the money into a nail spa business venture by a partner, but gained nothing financially as it was not profitable.

When his customer discovered in 2015 that the funds had been misused, he lodged a police report and later sued Ling for the return of the millions.

Ling, who has since been dismissed by UOB, was jailed for nine years on Tuesday (Jan 4).

He pleaded guilty to 20 charges of dishonest misappropriation by a servant and forgery of documents, with another 122 charges taken into consideration.

The court heard that Ling worked for UOB from 1992 and was a vice-president-cum-customer-service-manager between 2004 and 2014 when he committed the crimes.

His job scope included managing the daily operations and customer service, as well as growing the bank's business.

The victim and his wife have been UOB customers since 1998, and maintained various accounts with Ling, who was their relationship manager around end-1998 to early 2000.

At around the same time, another customer introduced Ling to a woman named Yong Ai Khim, who became Ling's business partner.

Yong set up a nail spa business called Nailxpert - Your Ultimate Nail Spa in 2002, and Ling provided financial support for her business with the understanding that he would share in its profits if it became profitable.

In 2004, the victim asked Ling for recommendations on nominee services provided by UOB, and Ling proposed that Ling's money could be held by UOB as nominee for him and his wife.

The victim agreed, but he did not know that UOB did not provide such a nominee account service. He began passing Ling cash to be deposited into the purported nominee bank account with UOB, but Ling would pass the money to Yong instead.

This went on for a decade, with the victim handing Ling £2.7 million and US$14,010 (about S$5 million), believing it would go into the UOB "nominee account".

The victim would hand Ling the cash at the UOB branch he was working at, and Ling would ask Yong to collect the cash from him that same day or the next.

Ling used time deposit accounts belonging to the victim's wife and another friend of Yong's to be used as pledge for Yong's overdraft facilities with UOB.

Yong would withdraw funds from the overdraft facilities for her nail spa business, but the interest incurred became too high around 2012. Ling suggested that Yong offset the amount she owed to UOB by using the funds received from the victim.

FORGED BANK DOCUMENTS TO INDUCE VICTIM INTO HANDING OVER MORE CASH

Whenever the victim was in Singapore, Ling would hand him bank statements he had forged as proof that his cash had purportedly been deposited.

Ling would lie to the victim that the account names and numbers were not shown on the statements due to the supposed nature of the account.

In truth, he altered original UOB documents and statements by photocopying them and passing them to the victim to induce him into handing over more cash.

He devised a template with UOB's physical letterhead on it and produced the bank statements in this manner, leading the victim to believe his funds had really been deposited into a special nominee account.

In September 2015, the victim asked to transfer a sum of about £373,000 from UOB to his DBS bank account.

Ling sent him an email saying he had misused the victim's funds, and the victim sent a lawyer's letter to UOB in November 2015 demanding access to his money.

UOB conducted internal investigations and discovered the fraud, filing a police report against Ling in November 2015. The victim also filed a report the following month.

In 2018, the victim and his wife sued Ling in the High Court for the return of the money. A judgment in April 2019 ordered Ling to pay the couple damages to be assessed, on top of interest and costs.

VICTIM SUES LING FOR RETURN OF MONEY

In January 2021, both sides signed a settlement agreement, with Ling agreeing to pay the victim about S$3.2 million in instalments over a 20-year period. So far, he has paid S$312,415.

Deputy Public Prosecutor V Jesudevan asked for nine years' jail for Ling, saying that he faces "an enormous number of charges".

"He has pillaged the victim's accounts to a tune of close to S$$5 million," he said. "Insofar as the complexion of what had taken place, there was deception — not just in terms of criminal breach of trust, but the use of forged documents."

He said Ling should not be seen as a first-time offender given his numerous charges, and that public interest "looms large" in cases like these where employees of a bank misuse their positions to benefit themselves.

Defence lawyer Tan Hsuan Boon asked instead for eight years' jail, saying his client fully regrets his actions and accepts full responsibility.

"He is remorseful for his actions, although he did not gain any financial benefit from the arrangement, having handed all monies to Ms Yong," said Mr Tan.

"He has made restitution within the humble and limited resources he has — he has agreed to pay the victims in instalments S$3.2 million over a 20-year period. Of that amount... he has paid approximately 10 per cent."

He added that his client was 66 and had medical ailments including hypertension, high cholesterol and severe obstructive sleep apnea, for which he is undergoing treatment.

He also needs to use a CPAP machine to provide him with "continuous positive airway pressure as he sleeps at night", said the lawyer.

A jail term may mean Ling spends the rest of his life in prison, he added.

In response, the prosecutor said the prisons are equipped to deal with a variety of medical ailments. He added that if the defence's argument is true in terms of Ling possibly not surviving jail, it would raise the question of whether the 20-year period of repayment was a bona fide one.

The judge said Ling's conduct cannot be condoned and that deterrence is necessary, agreeing with the prosecutor's suggested sentence.

After he was sentenced, Ling asked the court if someone would inform the victim that the case was closed, as he still needs to pay him regularly on a quarterly basis.

"But if I'm going in, I'm not able to make payment to him... definitely he will be curious about that... I'm just wondering, I don't want him to make a scene to my wife," he said.

The prosecutor said Ling would have to make arrangements, as he is bound by his settlement in the separate civil suit. The judge said he would give a memo to the prisons about Ling's sleep apnea, to see if he could bring his CPAP machine with him subject to the prison's clearance procedures. CNA

For more stories like this, visit cna.asia

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crime court fraud UOB

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