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Temple accountant with gambling habit used erasable pen to issue S$207,000 in cheques to herself, gets jail

SINGAPORE — A woman who worked as the only administrative clerk and accountant at a temple became addicted to gambling, visiting the casino almost daily.

A screengrab from Google Street View of Hong San Temple.

A screengrab from Google Street View of Hong San Temple.

SINGAPORE — A woman who worked as the only administrative clerk and accountant at a temple became addicted to gambling, visiting the casino almost daily.

In order to fund her vice, she decided to use an erasable pen to get signatories to sign off on cheques issued to vendors, before rubbing out the names and putting in her own.

After about a year of this and pocketing more than S$207,000 in temple funds, she became overwhelmed with guilt and wrote a letter confessing what she had done, before leaving Singapore for Hong Kong.

She eventually returned and turned herself in to the police.

China national Li Fanfang, 32, was sentenced to three years' jail on Thursday (Feb 16).

She pleaded guilty to one count of forging valuable securities by altering the payees of 16 signed cheques with a total value of S$207,234.

The court heard that Li had been in Singapore for more than 10 years and was married to a Singaporean man, bearing a son with him.

She worked for the Hong San Temple Association in Defu Lane for S$2,000 a month as an administrative clerk and accountant. She was in charge of receiving donations and keeping the books and was entrusted with the temple's cheque book.

The temple funds came from public donations. In order to disburse funds from the temple, signatures from signatories at the temple were required.

In 2019, Li, who had a gambling addiction, decided to use the temple funds for her gambling. She saw a pen with erasable ink and decided to use it for her crime.

She started out with small amounts, knowing that the temple did not allow large amounts of money to be disbursed.

Between April 27, 2019 and March 10, 2020, Li addressed cheques payable to legitimate vendors using the erasable pen. After obtaining signatures from the authorised signatories, she would erase the names of the vendors and fill in her own name.

On a few occasions, she persuaded unwitting family members to allow their names to be used, to avoid suspicion.

Li did so on 16 occasions, defrauding the temple of S$207,234 that she gambled away playing baccarat at the Marina Bay Sands casino. Casino records showed that she entered on an almost daily basis during that period.

No one at the temple suspected anything or verified the payments as they trusted Li.


On March 10, 2020, Li wrote a letter apologising to the temple staff, saying that she had stolen from them but did not specify how much. 

She asked for forgiveness and said she could only return S$1,000 a month. She left the letter at the temple and fled Singapore for Hong Kong, but began to miss her family within a week.

She returned to Singapore on March 16, 2020, but could not be contacted as she had thrown her phone away. She continued to visit the casino after she returned.

Meanwhile, one of the temple signatories received a bank statement and noticed discrepancies. He checked past statements and began to suspect that Li had been stealing, as she had not come to work for a while.

He lodged a police report the same day that he found the letter.

Li's husband advised her to surrender and she did so in late March 2020.

The prosecution sought 36 to 44 months' jail for Li. Her lawyer said she had ultimately returned to Singapore to face the music and should be given some credit for that.

The judge noted that Li was a first-time offender and had pleaded guilty, but said he could not ignore the fact that a very substantial amount of money was involved.

The offence was also committed against a temple, with the funds comprising donations from the public, and there was no restitution. CNA

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