SINGAPORE — Looking to deceive the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras), a human resources manager of a private firm dishonestly submitted false declarations for employees in prison and non-existent workers in an attempt to receive payouts under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS).
Wong Lai Kook, 48, a Malaysian, was sentenced to four months’ jail on Monday (Oct 23) after pleading guilty to three counts of attempting to cheat Iras into disbursing the JSS payouts.
Six other similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Ryan Lim told the court that at the time of the offences, Wong worked as a human resources manager of Double Ace Associates, which was in the debt collection business.
Wong’s ex-husband, Mr Tan Kian Tiong, was a director of the company.
In her role, Wong monitored the company’s and her ex-husband’s bank accounts for payments from debtors, assisted to prepare Double Ace’s accounts, and submitted Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions as well as payouts for the firm’s employees.
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government had introduced JSS to provide wage support to employers to help them retain local employees during the crisis.
The periodic payouts during certain months from 2020 to 2022 were administered by Iras.
Between February and April 2020, Double Ace made CPF contributions to two employees who were in prison as well as seven others who were non-existent workers.
The court heard that despite knowing that the two employees were in prison and not working for the company at the time, Wong still attempted to deceive the tax authority into believing that they were working for Double Ace.
In July 2020, Iras informed Double Ace that it was conducting a review of the company to verify that the mandatory CPF contributions paid by Double Ace, which would be used to compute the amount of JSS payouts for the July 2020 tranche, were correct.
Around July 29, 2020, Wong prepared and submitted a false declaration with the intent to dishonestly induce the statutory board into disbursing the July 2020 JSS payouts for the incarcerated employees.
Between July 22 and Aug 5, 2020, she once again attempted to deceive Iras by creating false employment letters and payslips for non-existent workers and submitted them with a declaration that these fake employees had done actual work.
Wong also submitted a list of local employees, which included the non-existent workers, along with a JSS self-review declaration form which had a false claim, said DPP Lim.
Iras ultimately did not disburse the JSS payouts and reported the matter to the police. Court documents did not state how Iras came to find out about the false declarations.
The total amount that would have been paid out if the claims were legitimate was S$8,561.
Court documents did not state if Wong is still working for the company or how many employees it has.
‘BRAZEN ATTEMPT TO CHEAT’
The prosecution sought a sentence of four to six months’ jail, arguing that Wong’s attempt to cheat a public institution warranted a deterrent sentence.
Her false declarations had been a brazen attempt to cheat the taxman into disbursing public funds and could have created potential financial harm to Iras, said DPP Lim.
He added that even though the attempts did not cause any financial loss, it does not justify giving Wong a lenient sentence.
In delivering her sentence of four months’ jail, District Judge Wong Su Ann said that offences involving public funds are typically dealt with sternly as they harm the public good and undermine good governance.
She highlighted that Wong played a significant role in the scheme to cheat Iras and even though it did not suffer any financial harm, Wong’s actions still involved significant premeditation and planning.
The judge also noted that the prosecution’s submission was fair and reasonable as there is a need to safeguard national resources and ensure that people who are eligible are not deprived of them.
For each charge of attempting to cheat Iras, Wong could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined.