Straits Times, 3 Apr 04
Gamble that went wrong
by Anil Menon
APB executive juggled accounts cleverly to feed his casino sprees
JUST five days after joining Asia Pacific Breweries as its finance
manager on Jan 20, 1999, Chia Teck Leng, 44, was busy hatching a plot
to fraudulently obtain credit facilities from a foreign bank. The
job had come as a blessing because he was in a deep hole - luck had
deserted him the previous year and he had accumulated gambling debts
of more than $1 million.
A habitual gambler, Chia started from $200 bets and graduated to A$400,000
wagers. Casino operators and other creditors were giving him sleepless
nights. Chia had been a habitual gambler since at least 1994, when
he was a financial controller with Swire Pacific Offshore, a marine
services company. He had plunged deep into debt during 1995-1996 and
owed several banks about $100,000 in the form of overdrafts and credit
But fortune smiled on him the next year when he began visiting Star
Cruise ships - almost every fortnight - to try his luck at the gambling
tables. He won on several occasions, and was even offered a credit
line of $75,000.
In less than a year, his winnings amounted to about $1 million, and
he was able to climb out of the red. However, the tide turned in August
1998. In a gambling spree that lasted a fortnight, he not only lost
all his previous winnings, but racked up new debts as well.
By the time he joined APB, the debts had mounted sky-high, and he
was a desperate man. He trained his sights on Skandinaviska Enskilda
Banken (SEB), a north European merchant bank with a worldwide network
of offices, including one in Singapore. Submitting forged documents,
he was able to open an account in APB's name, with himself as the
sole signatory. The bank also extended a credit facility for $500,000
- which, of course, he intended to use himself.
The plan went off without a hitch, and, gambler that he was, Chia
pushed his luck further. Between January 1999 and March last year,
he carefully created more fictitious documents and obtained credit
and loan facilities in APB's name from four foreign banks. They were
SEB, the Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), the Mizuho Corporate
Bank and the Bayerische Hypo-und Vereinsbank Aktiengesellschaft (HVB).
Ironically, the two Japanese banks and the German one approached Chia
because they wanted a slice of APB's business. He was only too happy
Meanwhile, APB had no idea of what its finance manager was doing behind
its back. Chia managed to remain in sole control of all these accounts
by forging director board resolutions that authorised him to receive
the credit and loan facilities provided by all four banks, sign all
transactions and operate the bank accounts on behalf of APB. To forge
the signatures of the various directors of APB, he obtained signature
specimens from annual reports and internal documents. He then practised
the signatures till he was sure they would pass muster.
Chia's modus operandi was to draw money from SMBC, Mizuho and HVB,
and transfer it to the SEB account. From here, the money was siphoned
into his two personal accounts with DBS before it was remitted to
casinos in Australia, Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Philippines.
He rolled over funds provided by the banks, making timely deposits
to each account whenever repayments were due, thus creating the impression
of a credit-worthy customer.
During a crunch situation in November 1999, he even withdrew $53 million
from an APB account with OCBC. He managed to replace the entire amount
by October 2002, escaping detection. As the amount of illegal money
available increased, so did the stakes for which Chia gambled.
From having placed $200 bets during his Star Cruise days, he graduated
to $5,000 flings. It was but a short step from there to the big leagues,
where he placed single bets of A$20,000 (S$25,800) in Australian casinos
and £25,000 (S$77,900) in British ones. He even played for A$400,000
a hand at the Crown Casino in Melbourne.
Having acquired a reputation as one of the world's elite high rollers,
Chia was provided with private jets to fly to casinos in Australia
and London. Various casinos also laid out invitations for him to visit
their tables. His largesse was evident back home, too. He bought a
Merce des-Benz and an apartment in Singapore while giving away more
than $300,000 in cash and gifts to various people, including his 22-year-old
girlfriend, China national Li Jin.
The bubble burst when the Commercial Affairs Department got wind of
Chia's activities. He was arrested on Sept 2, 2003. Chia's position
in APB, his knack for forgery and capacity for financial jugglery
persuaded the four banks to grant him loans and credit facilities
worth about $159 million. Before his four-year dream run ended, he
had withdrawn $117.1 million. Of this, only $34.8 million has been
recovered. The authorities estimate that he lost a stupendous $62
million feeding his gambling habit.