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Trader linked to S$39.9m SkillsFuture scam jailed for 6 years and 8 months

[SINGAPORE] A freelance trader linked to a S$39.9 million SkillsFuture scam was jailed for six years and eight months on Friday for money laundering offences involving more than S$4 million.

Vincent Peter, 51, pleaded guilty last month to 12 counts of dealing with the benefits of criminal activities. He handled more than S$4 million of the scammers' ill-gotten gains from Sept 12 to Nov 1, 2017.

He was the sixth person linked to the scam to be convicted. Other offenders including former cleaner Manickam Pragasam, 58, and driver Roger Quek Si Guang, 33, had been sentenced to jail earlier.

The ruse that targeted SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), which oversees an initiative aimed at promoting lifelong learning, has been described as the largest fraud against a public institution here.

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The SSG scheme pays subsidies to local businesses when they send an employee for skills training courses with registered training providers if certain conditions are met.

This subsidy reimburses some of the course fees and is paid either to the training provider or the firm, depending on the claim method used. The scammers used nine Singapore-registered businesses that submitted 8,386 fraudulent course fee grant applications and a corresponding 8,391 claims to SSG between May and October 2017.

The court heard that they were "dormant" companies with "no on-going business". About S$39.9 million was disbursed by SSG to these entities, Deputy Public Prosecutor Gordon Lim had said.

In 2012, Vincent got to know one of the alleged masterminds behind the scam, Ng Cheng Kwee, 43, after leasing a coffee shop stall from him.

Court documents state that Ng approached him five years later to find someone to encash cheques in exchange for an unspecified sum.

Vincent accepted the offer and approached Manickam to do the task. On Sept 12 and 19, 2017, Vincent received the cheques from Ng and handed them to Manickam, who cashed them at Maybank branches. The latter passed the cash to Vincent and received S$20.

Vincent, who was not informed about the source of the funds, handed Ng more than S$1 million over the two days.

Ng, whose case is pending, then gave him S$3,000. The court heard that Vincent continued committing similar offences even though he "had reasonable grounds to believe that the cheques and encashed monies represented proceeds from criminal conduct".

On Friday, defence lawyer Ramesh Tiwary pleaded for his client to be sentenced to five years' jail, adding that Vincent played a small role and was merely acting on instructions.

Offenders convicted of dealing with the proceeds of criminal conduct can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined up to S$500,000 for each charge.

THE STRAITS TIMES