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Former HSBC senior VP jailed 10 years and six months for cheating elderly women of their savings

[SINGAPORE] A former financial planning senior vice-president of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), who cheated five people - including her own family members - of over S$5.2 million, was jailed for 10 years and six months on Friday (June 29).

Emeline Tang Wei Leng, 39, had earlier pleading guilty to 34 charges, including cheating and forgery, while another 223 charges were considered during sentencing.

Four of her victims are family members. Among them is a 79-year-old aunt of her former husband and her 45-year-old sister-in-law. There are also two distant relatives - a pair of sisters aged 69 and 79 - and their 81-year-old friend. The names of the five victims were not revealed in court documents.

On Friday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Haniza Abnass urged District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim to sentence Tang to 10 years' jail.

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Stressing that Tang, who worked for the bank between 2004 and 2012, had preyed on elderly and vulnerable victims, the DPP said: "The consequences of having lost their life savings is devastating upon these elderly victims. Unable to work to recoup the losses inflicted upon them and left with limited funds, they have not only lost the ability to enjoy their golden years, they must spend those years in financial suffering."

Tang's lawyer, Mr Mathew Kurian pleaded for his client to be sentenced to eight years' jail.

He said that she had returned more than S$800,000 to the victims. He also said that Tang had used the money to settle the debts of her former husband, who had a gambling problem, and to pay for her father's cancer treatment.

The court heard that, in 2003, Tang got to know through her husband that his aunt had come into some money after she had sold a property.

Tang got in touch with the older woman and lied to her, claiming that HSBC had fixed deposit plans that offered high interest rates of 3 to 4 per cent. Tang volunteered to open one such fixed-deposit account for the woman.

Tang also persuaded her then-husband's aunt to issue her a cash cheque for this, claiming it would be faster to deposit the monies that way.

Other elderly women in Tang's circle also got to hear of the investment plan that she had cooked up. They, too, gave her cash cheques or cash to open accounts for them.

Tang kept the money for herself but prepared policy booklets purportedly issued by HSBC, bearing the bank's logo. The booklets included details such as policy numbers, maturity value, commencement and expiry dates.

Each time a victim asked for some money from her account, Tang would keep the sham going by handing over sums of cash that she claimed were interest payments.

Investigations revealed that Tang first kept the money she had collected from her victims in her own HSBC account. Later, to avoid suspicion, she would cash their cheques over bank counters or keep the cash at home.

She kept up the elaborate ruse even after resigning from HSBC in 2012. She got busted only when some of the victims asked to withdraw their funds from the plans.

When Tang was unable to pay back the women she had taken money from, they got in touch with HSBC. It was only then they learnt that they did not have any fixed deposit accounts with the bank.

THE STRAITS TIMES