Indian-origin Singaporean magician jailed for defrauding govt agency of over 70K dollars

Singapore, Mar 31 (PTI) A 40-year-old Indian-origin Singaporean magician on Wednesday was sentenced to three years of imprisonment for causing a government agency to disburse SGD 73,818 in public funds to individuals who made bogus claims.

S Chandran will spend an additional 30 weeks behind bars if unable to pay the amount, The Straits Times reported.

The magician-turned-consultant was also ordered to pay the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) a financial penalty of SGD 295,272 (Rs 1.60 crore) — four times the amount cheated, according to TODAY newspaper.

Chandran, the sole proprietor of Paradise Consultancy, faces a total of 58 charges. He was found guilty last July of three counts of helping three individuals to obtain SGD 73,818 (Rs 40.16 lakh) fraudulently in 2014 under the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme, an IRAS initiative meant to boost productivity.

He collected half of the amount — around SGD 36,900 (Rs 20.07 lakh) — for his personal benefit.

Chandran has flip-flopped in deciding whether or not to plead guilty throughout the court process, which began when he was charged in January 2017.

He had initially claimed trial but decided to throw in the towel during cross-examination. He then pleaded guilty in November 2018 to helping 49 applicants submit 58 fake claims.

The amount of cash payouts and bonuses listed in all of his charges totalled more than SGD 1.1 million (Rs 59.85 crore), with over SGD 870,000 (Rs 4.73 crore) disbursed by IRAS, the court previously heard.

But in April 2019, Chandran retracted his guilty plea and went on trial for three of his charges. He was convicted of these last year.

He then said he would like to plead guilty to his remaining charges but the hearing was adjourned several times.

On Wednesday, he changed his mind once more as he could not accept the statement of fact prepared by the prosecution. This led to his defence lawyer T S Sinnadurai discharging himself.

District Judge Kessler Soh noted while sentencing Chandran that his conduct during the trial showed a lack of remorse, and he has refused to make restitution.

The judge also agreed with prosecutors that it was an unprecedented case of PIC fraud and that Chandran had masterminded it.

Chandran told the court that he intends to appeal against the conviction and sentence.

He remains out on a SGD 200,000 (Rs 1.08 crore) bail and the judge arranged for a pre-trial conference to deal with his remaining 55 charges.

Chandran goes by the name Ran Superman for his magician work, and founded the events companies Entertainment Paradize and Magical Wonderland.

The PIC scheme was introduced in 2010 to encourage businesses in Singapore to invest in productivity and innovation.

Chandran began advertising his services as a PIC consultant and told three clients to list three local employees in their application forms, and got them to falsely state that they ran businesses generating a revenue of SGD 1,000 (Rs 54,407).

The prosecution noted that Chandran hand-held one such claimant, who complied with every instruction, including signing on the PIC application form. This continued even after the application was initially rejected and subsequently reviewed by IRAS.

Chandran had also forged invoices, receipts and other documentation to give the claims a cloak of legitimacy if an audit were conducted.

Offenders can be jailed up to five years or fined up to SGD 50,000 (Rs 27 lakh), or punished with both, for fraudulently assisting others to obtain a PIC cash payout or bonus. They will also be given a penalty four times the amount.