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Singapore – Assessing the Degree Of Knowledge For Dishonestly Receiving Stolen Property.

26 November 2014

 

Legal News & Analysis – Asia Pacific – Singapore  Dispute Resolution

 

Introduction

 
Singaporeans have been hit by an increasing number of scams where they are convinced by third parties to help process and transfer stolen funds. What they are slow to realise is that criminal liability may be incurred even if they did not know that the funds were stolen; all that is required is a reason to believe so. In Public Prosecutor v Hergobind s/o Arjandas Goklani [2014] SGDC 398, the Court examined the degree of knowledge necessary for the commission of this offence.

 
The Defendant in this case had helped to transfer funds through his account for a woman he had met in an online chat room. The funds later turned out to have been stolen from an American account. The Defendant was thus charged with the dishonest receipt of stolen property, as well as removal of the property from the jurisdiction.

 
Although the Prosecution alleged that the Defendant had ignored the red flags in the transaction, the Court did not see sufficient evidence that the Defendant had reason to believe that the funds were stolen. The Defendant was thus acquitted.

 
Brief Facts

 
The Defendant had met one “Rose Donca” through an online chat room, where they soon began exchanging romantic messages. Eventually, Rose asked the Defendant for help in transferring funds for the alleged payment of a shipment of goods for her business. The Defendant agreed, whereupon the funds were transferred into his company’s account. He then transferred the money to various accounts upon Rose’s instruction.

 
The Defendant helped to transfer money from Rose on another occasion before it eventually emerged that the funds had been stolen from an American account. When the Defendant’s bank sought to reclaim the money from his account, the Defendant lodged a police report, submitting the chat logs and supporting documents from Rose.

 
The Defendant was charged with the dishonest receipt of stolen property under s411 of the Penal Code, as well as removal of the property from the jurisdiction under s47 of the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

 
Holding Of The District Court

 
The Court acquitted the Defendant of all charges against him. On an assessment of the evidence, the Court found it more likely that he believed the legitimacy of Rose’s requests and did not have reason to believe that he was dealing with stolen property. He was thus not liable for the receipt or removal of the funds.

 
The Prosecution alleged that there had been numerous red flags, such as the fact that Rose sought the use of the Defendant’s bank account days after meeting him online, and that she avoided actually speaking with him. The Prosecution also raised suspicious points regarding the transactions, as the sums actually transferred were different from what Rose had told the Defendant, and the transfer process was unnecessarily complex and without adequate documentation.

 

However, the Court did not accept the Prosecution’s allegation that the Defendant had ignored the red flags due to commissions and compensation offered by Rose and his “lust” for her. On the facts, the Court held that the Prosecution had not shown Rose’s requests were so suspicious that the Defendant ought to have reason to believe that he may be dealing with proceeds of a crime.

 
The chat logs played an important part in the decision, as they were taken by the Court to be genuine, truthful and contemporaneous records of the Defendant’s thinking and beliefs at the material time. Examining the chat logs, the Court found that the Defendant was genuinely infatuated with Rose, and was at most guilty of being careless in not noticing the alleged red flags. This in itself was insufficient to establish dishonest receipt of stolen property.

 
Importantly, the Court clarified that the offence required the establishment of a “reason to believe” that the property was stolen. While actual certainty of mind is not required, it is not enough to have a mere suspicion or to be careless in enquiry. The Court must assume the position of the actual individual involved (including his knowledge and experience), but must reason from the position that an objective reasonable man would be led by a chain of probable reasoning to infer that the property was stolen.

 
Concluding Words

 
The instances of scams involving Singaporeans for the transfer of stolen or illegal funds have been increasing of late, regularly making the news. Locals may meet the perpetrators online or in clubs, and may be lured by convincing stories and the practiced tugging of heartstrings. They then find themselves unwittingly drawn into the web of illegal transactions.

 
It is important to be vigilant when dealing with any transaction at the request of a third party which may present any elements of suspicion, or red flags as in the present case. Parties should be wary of the identity of the third party and the complexity of any transaction. It is also advisable to ask the necessary questions and obtain supporting documents from the third party.

 
Although a mere suspicion is not enough to establish an offence, past a certain point, the willful ignorance of the warning signs may constitute the requisite “reason to believe”.

 

Rajah & Tann

 

For further information, please contact:

 

Hamidul Haq, Partner, Rajah & Tann
[email protected]

 
Yusfiyanto Bin Yatiman, Partner, Rajah & Tann

[email protected]

 

Wong Shi Yun, Rajah & Tann

[email protected]


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