Property agent who cheated family members and clients to fund gambling addiction jailed

Wan Ting Koh
Singapore state courts (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

He was a property agent who fled to Malaysia after scamming his clients of their rental money. While he was on the run, he deceived his family members into believing that he was kidnapped and induced them to transfer him money.

Joe Tan Kia Hian, 41, who was fired by property marketing firm Huttons Asia, was jailed for 23 months on Thursday (28 February), after he pleaded guilty to nine charges, including forgery, criminal breach of trust as an agent, and cheating. Eighteen other similar charges were taken into consideration for his sentencing.

Tan had turned to crime after he lost his investments in China in 2016, according to his lawyer. He borrowed money from moneylenders and gambled but it worsened his situation and he racked up more debts.

In 2017, Tan decided to cheat the landlord and tenants of a Guillemard flat, who were his clients. He prepared two sets of tenancy agreements, with higher rental amounts and security deposits listed for one set of agreements meant for the tenants.

He then forged signatures on the documents before he arranged to have them countersigned. He deceived the tenants into believing that they were transferring the rental money to the landlord, when the monies were actually diverted to his personal account.

After transferring an amount owed to the landlord, Tan pocketed the difference between the amounts listed in both sets of documents. His scheme went on for about a year.

In January 2018, Tan lied to the tenants that the landlord required the rental payment to be made earlier when no such request was made. Tan then misappropriated the payment. In another incident the following month, Tan misappropriated a cash cheque of $4,600 meant for a tenant.

Tan later texted his sister to say that he did want to go to jail.

“He said he wanted to start afresh elsewhere in the world, and asked his family to help him as he “only (has) a small window to leave,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Ho Lian-Yi.

His sister replied that the family could not help him evade the law. She advised him to call a social service to help him with his gambling addiction and money management. She also implored Tan to think about their cancer-stricken father.

Disregarding her advice, Tan left Singapore on 10 March 2018 and headed to Genting Highlands, Malaysia.

By 11 March 2018, he had lost all his money except for $1,000 in his bank account. He texted a client, a tenant of a unit in Killiney Road to say that the landlord had requested for the rental to be transferred to another bank account, which was his own. He misappropriated the money that was sent to the account and gambled it away.

On the same day, Tan borrowed 30,000 ringgit from a Malaysian moneylending syndicate but lost all the money to gambling. One of the syndicate runners suggested that Tan cheat his family by pretending he had been kidnapped.

Tan agreed with the idea and texted his father, his wife and his sister that he was held hostage in Malaysia. He told his family members that the kidnappers would kill him or chop off his fingers if he didn’t receive the money to pay them. He received a fund transfer of $26,000 provided by his father.

Tan’s wife filed a police report about the alleged kidnap and the Royal Malaysia Police were alerted.

On 17 March 2018, Tan was arrested by the Royal Malaysia Police when he went to the casino. He was sent back to Singapore and arrested.

Tan’s victims lost a total of $59,400, and he did not make any restitution.

Asking for at least 25 months’ imprisonment, DPP Ho said Tan had not only cheated his clients and family members, he had also ganged up with syndicate members to cheat his family, said the DPP.

Lawyer Vikram Ranjan, who represented Tan, asked for no more than 14 months’ jail, saying his client had racked up debts of $300,000 due to his failed investments.

In sentencing Tan, District Judge Ong Luan Tze said, “Your conduct as a property agent, a son, brother and husband was nothing short of appalling.”

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