SINGAPORE — In trying to pay credit card debts and get back money that he had lost in foreign currency trading, a former service manager at Maybank dishonestly misappropriated more than S$1.4 million of the bank’s money for his own use.
Phua Kai Liang, 34, was sentenced to 46 months’ jail on Wednesday (Sept 27) after pleading guilty to two counts of committing criminal breach of trust by dishonestly misappropriating cash from a safe in the bank’s branch.
Another similar charge was taken into consideration for sentencing.
The court heard that at the time of his offences, Phua was employed as the service manager for the Maybank branch in Chua Chu Kang.
DUTIES AS SERVICE MANAGER
As the service manager, Phua reported directly to the branch manager and was tasked with managing the service crew working at the branch.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Leong Kit Yu said that Phua also oversaw the day-to-day operations of the branch, which included counting the cash in the bank’s safe, and handling the security alarm of the safe.
To open the safe, Phua had to first ensure that the security alarm was disarmed before using a key to unlock the cabinet, which housed the safe.
The safe could be opened after that, using a combination password, which was known only to him and the deputy service manager of the branch.
TAKING CASH OUT OF THE SAFE
Sometime in early 2021, Phua incurred credit card debts that he was not able to repay. This was due to heavy losses that he had suffered from trading in the foreign exchange (forex) market.
To help pay off his debts, Phua borrowed money from his friends, family and licensed moneylenders, and also resorted to gambling at a casino to recoup the losses he had suffered.
Around March that same year, Phua decided to fund his gambling and forex trading using cash stored in Maybank’s safe.
He knew that the safe key was kept in an unlocked drawer of a common desk that was shared between him and the cash officers of the branch.
He waited until there was nobody around before taking the key to open the safe without authorisation.
Usually, he would store the misappropriated money in his bag, lock the safe, return the key to the drawer and reactivate the security alarm for the safe before leaving.
The money would either be converted into token chips for gambling at the casino in the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort, or be deposited into his own bank account to be used for forex trading and other personal expenses.
Any winnings acquired from gambling at the casino would be set aside for return to Maybank’s safe.
When there were excess winnings, he would use the money to either repay his debts, engage in forex trading or pay for his personal expenses.
In order to avoid detection, he would ensure that the money he took would be returned to the safe before the start of the next business day.
He would also make sure that the number and denomination of notes returned tallied with the safe’s cash records that were kept at the branch.
TELLING THE TRUTH
Over two occasions on the evening of June 10 in 2021, Phua dishonestly misappropriated S$404,000 from the safe and converted them into casino chips.
He had no choice but to come clean to his parents and fiancee after he lost the entire sum.
His fiancee then encouraged him to confess to his wrongdoing and agreed to help him make full restitution to Maybank.
On the morning of June 11, his fiancee prepared S$404,000 in cash and handed it to Phua for him to return to Maybank’s safe.
Phua then called a cash officer of the branch and asked her to meet him outside the bank to return the money.
The cash officer agreed to help him on account that he told the branch manager. Both the manager and Maybank were informed by Phua of his wrongdoings on the same day.
Phua misappropriated a total of S$1,439,250 from Maybank’s safe over 15 occasions from March 23 to June 10 in 2021.
Of the amount, only S$404,000 was paid full in restitution as he had already returned the remainder with his gambling winnings.
‘BORROWED MONEY OUT OF DESPERATION’
On behalf of Phua, defence counsel Riko Chua Isaac urged the court to consider 36 to 45 months’ jail as opposed to the prosecution’s proposed 48 to 60 months’ jail.
This was on account that Phua had borrowed money “out of desperation” and did not act out of greed.
Mr Chua said that Phua had found himself in a very difficult financial situation of his own doing, and gave in to the financial pressure where he made the wrong decision to try to recoup the losses he suffered.
The lawyer added that Phua is keenly aware of how the prospect of a harsh or significant penalty would affect his future but he is ultimately resolved to get his life back on track after he is released.
For committing criminal breach of trust by dishonestly misappropriating cash, Phua could have been jailed up to 15 years and fined.