Singapore

Social service worker guilty of stealing $343,000 meant for needy

Social service worker pocketed cheques instead of handing them over to beneficiaries

A 33-year-old social service worker entrusted with money to help low income and needy individuals and families was yesterday convicted of filching a total of $343,780 from the Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare) over three years from November 2011 to August 2014.

Chia Kwang Hwee spent about $130,000 of the money paying off debts owed by him or his relatives. He also gave about $100,000 to relatives as gifts.

He spent the remaining $110,000 on luxury items for himself or his relatives. These include luxury spa and hair salon packages, expensive meals, holidays and branded goods.

The money he pocketed was meant to help 42 low-income and needy individuals and families.

Chia pleaded guilty to 19 charges: Two each of criminal breach of trust as a public servant and transferring criminal proceeds, and 15 of accessing a computer to commit criminal breach of trust.

Another 107 counts will be taken into account in sentencing as part of his plea bargain: one of criminal breach of trust, 28 each of transferring criminal proceeds and using criminal proceeds, and 50 of accessing a computer to commit criminal breach of trust.

The prosecution has asked for him to be jailed for six years, while Chia's lawyer asked for not more than 2½ years' jail.

District Judge Lee Poh Choo will deliver the sentence on Dec 22.

Chia worked as a manager with the South East Community Development Council (South East CDC), part of the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, between June 2009 and June 2013.

Following a restructuring, he became a manager with the Social Service Office (SSO) at Geylang Serai, part of the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

When he was at South East CDC and Geylang Serai SSO, Chia was responsible for disbursing monies from the ComCare to low income and needy individuals and families.

Between January 1, 2012, and December 31, 2013, he collected 314 cheques worth about $197,060, which had been issued by South East CDC or Geylang Serai SSO.

Instead of handing them to the beneficiaries, Chia encashed them and deposited the money into his own bank account.

The cheques had been made out to "Cash" as the beneficiaries who were supposed to receive the cheques did not have bank accounts.

In November 2012, Chia also became a team leader and was granted access rights to a computer system used to administer ComCare funds to beneficiaries.

He was granted system administrator rights and could also reset the passwords of other account users.

Between December 2013 and August 2014, Chia entered his own bank account details instead of beneficiaries' bank account details into the computer system.

He also misused his system administrator rights to reset the passwords of 15 other social service officers' accounts, then used his colleagues' accounts to approve $67,100 in beneficiaries' payouts into his account.

He was suspended from duties on August 19, 2014, after his crimes were discovered.

Police have seized 21 branded luxury items worth nearly $30,000 which he had bought with criminal proceeds, from his home.


How Chia spent the money

AIR TICKETS

  • $3,647: Cathay Pacific Airways
  • $1,992: China Eastern Airlines
  • $1,418: SilkAir
  • $2,480: Thai Airways

HOTELS

  • $1,000: Sheraton Towers
  • $2,047: W Hong Kong

DINING

  • $2,588: Chao Gang Cun Fine Dining

GROOMING

  • $1,252: Jean Yip

BOUTIQUES

  • $3,701: Club 21
  • $1,930: Mulberry
  • $5,465: Louis Vuitton
  • $3,500: Francis Cheong boutique
  • $1,500: Lane Crawford
  • $1,263: Ssense.com
  • $1,148: Christian Dior
courtFraudLOW INCOME