Meet Singapore’s Biggest White Collar Criminal.

Reported white collar crime hit a high in Singapore, with one in three executives reporting that their organisation had suffered fraud in the last two years. However, none of these crimes come close to the largest case of fraud in Singapore. 

On 2 April 2004, Chia Teck Leng was sentenced to 42 years in jail, the longest ever sentence ever meted out for the white collar crime in Singapore. To feed his gambling addiction, Chia forged documents and swindled $117 million from banks over four years as a finance manager at Asia Pacific Breweries (APB).

Chia’s background

As with most white collar crimes, Chia had a strong education record and career track. An accountancy graduate, he worked at the now-defunct accounting and consultancy firm, Arthur Andersen before proceeding to hold several senior positions in various companies, including assistant vice-president at the United Overseas Bank, mergers-and-acquisitions manager at Jack Chia-MPH, and financial controller at Swire Pacific Offshore Services.

A high flyer, he joined APB as its finance manager at 44 years old in 1999. The job required him to travel, and paid him an annual salary of between $200,000 and $300,000.

A suicidal spiral

Beneath a successful career, Chia led a secret double life as a gambling addict. He was so well-known in casinos abroad that the casino operators would not only personally invite him to their betting halls, but also fly him in on private jets. His VIP treatment at the Crown Casino in Melbourne, Australia, granted him accommodation in its most expensive room costing A$25,000 a night.

From his prison cell, Chia recalls that he was utterly hooked on casinos. “Whether by coincidence or good fortune, I could never tell, but I was then a consistent winner. As the stake of my bets increased in proportion to the frequency of my trips to the casinos, so did my bank balance.”

However, as with all gambling stories, his winning streak did not last. Being a habitual and compulsive gambler since 1994, he was already heavily indebted by the time he joined APB. His five figure monthly salary was simply insufficient. His bets went from $200 ones during his Star Cruise days, to A$20,000 and A$25,000 in British casinos. At the Crown Casino, he even played for A$400,000 a hand once. The stakes continued ballooning until it became outrageous million dollar bets.

“In one night alone, I lost three quarters of the million dollars which I had painstakingly accumulated over the past four years.” Chia pens in his report, ‘Taming the Casino Dragon’, from his cell. “I completely lost my footing. As I tried in vain to recover my winnings, I made even greater losses. The casinos and junket operators began to harass me for debts owed. I soon became desperate. On many occasions, I was suicidal. When the depression was overpowering late one night, I made a goodbye tape in the event……’

With a heavy financial and mental burden, Chia resorted to borrowing money. Expectedly, this made matters worse. “I reasoned to myself that the borrowing was only temporary and I would return every cent from my eventual winnings. Alas, it was not to be. The more I borrowed, the more I lost.”

In order to regain his losses, Chia used his familiarity with the workings and mechanics of casino gambling to his advantage. “I did my calculations. In order to have a chance in recouping my enormous losses, I had to seek out bigger bets. So I started to travel to the most exclusive casinos in Australia and London where the biggest bets in the world are placed.” Out of desperation, he soon started placing million dollar bets per hand, and ended up winning or losing an outrageous sum of ten million dollars or more on every trip. When Chia was arrested, he was purportedly the second biggest casino gambler in the world.

“It is this psyche of hope and quest to be among the lucky some which motivates a punter (someone who gambles) to gamble even if he is fully aware of the existence of the house advantage.”

A secret mistress

Chia and Li. (source)

While Chia’s colleagues know him as a nondescript executive who got along well with others, they knew nothing about his gambling debt or secret mistress. He had a Chinese-national girlfriend half his age, Li Jin, whom he deems as his lucky charm. With Li as a croupier in the VVIP room on board a cruise ship casino, Chia managed to win $1 million from her. Due to the losses suffered by the casino, she was given a day off whenever he came on board. 

The Nanjing University graduate later left her job to be with Chia in Singapore. Chia paid $10, 000 for a forged Taiwanese passport that allowed Li to enter and leave the country freely. She was also gifted with luxurious items.

Chia managed to hide all this from his wife and two sons in Singapore. He lived with them in the St. Francis Lodge condominium off Serangoon Road.

Deception and forgery

To secure more capital to fuel his gambling addiction and lifestyle, the high rolling hustler seeked out other illegal fund channels. Chia forged documents to cheat several banks over four years from 1999 to 2003. He deceived banks with certified extracts of board resolutions to get them to extend credit and loan facilities to him in the name of APB, with him as the sole signatory. One of the forged documents purportedly gave approval for APB (Singapore) to open an account with a Scandinavian bank, Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEB), and authorised Chia “to operate and sign all transactions in relation to the said account”.

To successfully embezzle the money, Chia references brazenly forged the signatures of top APB and Fraser and Neave (F&N) executives. The latter owned almost 40 percent of APB. To ensure that the signatures were acceptable, he referenced signature specimens from annual reports and internal documents and practised hard.

Chia systematically drew money from SMBC, Mizuho and HVB, before pumping them into the SEB account. He then siphoned everything into his two personal DBS accounts before it was remitted to casinos in Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines. Chia managed to do all these without APB’s knowledge as the brewery had vested wide powers and authority on Chia without proper checks in place. Chia also instructed his secretary to never open letters from banks addressed to him. The banks, on the other hand, were too eager to do business with APB that they willingly gave out loans of millions of dollars without due diligence to verify if Chia was indeed authorised to act on behalf of APB. They also failed to adhere to their own banking procedures and did not notice obvious discrepancies and irregularities in documents.

With the cash, Chia made lavish purchases including a $150,000 Mercedes Benz, a $530,000 apartment in Grange Road, and gifts totalling over $300,000 to various people. He had A$190 million (S$230 million) in his Melbourne casino account, A$8.8 million (S$11 million) in three Swiss bank accounts, and a hidden S$1.5 million by “buying” 1.5 million shares in Business Continuum Solutions (a company he founded with another partner) in his girlfriend’s name.

The arrest and sentence

After being denied bail, Chia was arrested in 2003 by the Commercial Affairs Department with 46 charges. There were 14 charges of forgery, 18 of cheating four foreign banks of about $117 million, four of criminal breach of trust involving $53 million, two of money-laundering, and eight of abetting Li to use a forged passport.

In 2004, he pleaded guilty to six charges of forgery and eight charges of cheating. Another 32 charges were considered during the sentencing. Chia pleaded that the banks had approached him first and they had been too naive, trusting and negligent, making it easy for him to commit the crimes. However, judge Tay Yong Kwang dismissed it and noted that his deception and efforts to remain undetected for four years was a work of a ‘criminal genius’.

He was eventually sentenced to 42 years in jail, the longest jail term ever given for a commercial crime. 

Chia’s final words

During the debate on the proposed integrated resorts in 2005, Chia sought permission from the Director of Prisons to write a 13 page paper recounting his gambling experience in casinos: how they operated; the risks involved, and his view on safeguards that should be in place should the government build a casino.

Chia even suggested a casino entrance fee of $10,000 for Singaporean gamblers, to restrict the operation hours between 2pm-6am, impose a total ban on credit, loans, and junkets, as well as a stringent monitoring and control system by the government.

“When a punter wins, he is tempted to continue in the belief that he could win more. When he loses, he is tempted to chase after his losses. In this trap, the punter is often lured unwittingly into a situation whereby he is ultimately conquered by his own weaknesses and the statistical behaviour of the gaming model. Many an educated and discerning punter has been tragically decimated over the years. The risk to the uninformed and the new convert must be horrendously larger.”


Author

Vanessa Ng

Contributor

Know someone who needs help with problem gambling? Call the helpline at 1800-6-668-668, seek web-counselling, or find out more here.

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