Singapore—In spite of a mandatory treatment order for a woman who was victimised by a love scam, prosecutors are saying that she should also receive jail time for her role in the deception as she also committed a scam in the process.
Christina Cheong Yoke Lin, a 63-year-old divorced part-time English teacher, had been scammed by a would-be lover. She allowed S$50,030 to be deposited in her bank account, which was purportedly from him, a man only referred to as “Collins”. But the money came from another woman whom Collins was scamming, a 54-year-old Singaporean, who deposited the money into Ms Cheong’s account.
However, when Collins asked her to transfer the amount into another account, instead of doing as Collins wanted, Ms Cheong kept the money in her own account, eventually using S$1,000 for personal purposes, which led to her guilty plea on May 29 for dishonestly misappropriating the cash.
On July 16, Tuesday, prosecutors called for a three-month jail sentence for Ms Cheong, even though there is already a mandatory treatment order report recommending that the English teacher submits to treatment for 18 months.
However, according to Ms Cheong’s lawyer Aaron Lee, she did not intend to commit fraud on purpose. “She went looking for love but she found a fraudster. She was a victim in at least four of such scams.” He recommended the mandatory treatment order for her instead.
Mr Lee cited a report from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) that said that at the time of the scams, Ms Cheong had been suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, and was suicidal.
But according to Deputy Public Prosecutors Leong Wing Tuck and Eugene Phua, Ms Cheong’s depression was of “mild severity”.
They said she was a “manipulative offender adept at putting out lies when it suited her situation.” They also claimed that Ms Cheong was “at the steering wheel” in her interactions with Collins.
Mr Leong said, “What we see here is an individual playing along, manipulating the situation as much as the other party.”
At her trial on May 30, Deputy Public Prosecutor Ng Jun Chong said “Collins explained that the accused could take SS$500 (RM1,520) out of each transaction and bring the rest of the money to Johor Baru, Malaysia. After asking why the money could not be paid directly into his boss’ account, and if she would get into trouble for carrying ‘lots of money’, the accused agreed to ‘try out’ the arrangement.”
However, the money stayed in Ms Cheong’s account.
Mr Ng continued, “From Aug 18 until Aug 27, 2017, Collins asked the accused repeatedly about the money but the accused kept making excuses and ignoring his WhatsApp voice calls.
Finally, on Aug 27, 2017, Collins fell out with the accused and called her a ‘thief’ via WhatsApp… Thereafter, the accused ignored several WhatsApp messages and voice calls from Collins before blocking him.”
But, at around the same time, Ms Cheong fell for a love scam herself, depositing S$31,000 to a bank account in Malaysia to a man with whom she said she was in love, only referred to as ‘Mark Anthony.’
Mark Anthony told her he was being detained by authorities in Malaysia.
According to the Deputy Prosecutor, “As for the remaining S$19,000, from August 18 to September 4 , 2017, the accused spent S$1,000 on her own expenses and transferred the remainder to various foreign bank accounts over several occasions pursuant to the instructions of one ‘Chong Lee’, who had promised to give the accused S$800,000 for her help as part of an inheritance scam.”
The police were alerted to Ms Cheong’s doings by the original victim of Collins’ love scam. The woman told the police about Ms Cheong’s involvement on September 22, 2017.
Ms Cheong has returned the money in full to the victim of Collins’ love scam, according to Defence lawyer Yu Kexin.
Sentencing in Ms Cheong’s case has been set for August since District Judge Ng Peng Hong said he needed time to ponder on the submissions by the defense and prosecution before he reaches a verdict.
If Ms Cheong is found guilty, she can be jailed for up to two years./ TISG