SINGAPORE — Feeling pressured by his company’s client Woodlands Wellington Football Club (WWFC) into delivering audited financial statements, a man decided to forge his boss’ signature on the documents and send them to the club for their submission to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras).
Lau Chee Yoong, 34, a Malaysian who was working as an audit assistant at the time, was fined S$20,000 on Friday (Sept 15) after pleading guilty to committing forgery.
A similar charge where he forged audited financial statements for Hougang United Football Club (HUFC) was taken into consideration during sentencing.
The court heard that during the time of the offence, Lau was working with Chan Leng Leng & Co where he was tasked to audit the accounts of the company’s clients and report to Chan Leng Leng, who is the boss of the firm.
At that time, HUFC and WWFC were the company’s clients.
Sometime before March 2016, Ms Chan assigned Lau to conduct an audit on WWFC regarding its 2015 financial statements.
With the instructions to conduct further checks on WWFC’s management accounts, Lau contacted the club’s finance executive Frances Chow and asked for an appointment to audit the accounts.
Between March 1 and 9, Lau was there at the club to audit its accounts.
However, he was juggling several auditing assignments at the same time, so there was some delay in completing WWFC’s audit.
Mr Chow began to start pressuring Lau to complete the audit sometime around May 2016 because the club was required to submit its financial statements for the 2015 financial year to Iras by the end of May.
Lau was only able to finalise the financial statements for WWFC towards the end of that month.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Thiagesh Sukumaran said that in order for the financial statements to be duly audited, Ms Chan had to review Lau’s work and sign an opinion to state that the documents were in order, in her capacity as a chartered accountant and independent auditor of WWFC.
Since Lau was in a rush to complete the other assignments that were handed to him, he was unable to submit the documents for his boss’ review.
Feeling pressured by Mr Chow who continued to ask for WWFC’s financial statements, Lau decided to forge Ms Chan’s signature.
He first photocopied her signature from WWFC’s 2014 financial document before using a pair of scissors to cut out the portion of the paper where the signature was.
Lau then stuck the signature on an independent auditors report for WWFC’s 2015 financial year and photocopied the page.
To make it look less like a photocopy, Lau used a black pen to trace over Ms Chan’s signature and stamped the date “16 May 2016” on the report.
He then sent the report along with the financial statements to WWFC.
In doing so, Lau had acted with intent to commit fraud as he knew that WWFC would accept the report as the club’s duly audited financial statements and would submit them to Iras, DPP Thiagesh said.
WWFC did not detect the forgery and submitted the financial statements to various government agencies, which included Iras, the Registry of Societies, the Police Licensing and Regulatory Department, and the Football Association of Singapore.
Lau’s forgery was discovered after the Commercial Affairs Department under the Singapore Police Force investigated WWFC and HUFC, as part of investigations into the financial affairs of Tiong Bahru Football Club in April 2017.
Seeking a fine of between $20,000 and S$25,000 for Lau, DPP Thiagesh said that the fine should be significant in nature because forgery committed by an auditing professional cannot be taken lightly.
He also pointed out that although Lau’s efforts to forge the signature were unsophisticated, it was still difficult to detect because the forgery was uncovered after the Commercial Affairs Department began investigations.
In delivering the sentence of a S$20,000 fine, District Judge Ronald Gwee agreed with the prosecution that deterrence is a very important factor that needs to be taken into account.
The judge added that the forgery offence calls for specific deterrence to prevent other auditing professionals from taking the route that Lau had taken.
For committing forgery, Lau could have been jailed up to four year or fined, or both.