Saturday, October 31, 2009

Condo's clerk ordered to return $2.2m

Man in civil claim also under criminal probe for reported fraud

AN ACCOUNTS clerk was ordered to return some $2.2 million that he took over 18 months from a condominium management office, where he had worked since May 2003.

Mr Chew Swee Siong, 30, did not show up in court to contest the High Court claim brought by the West Bay Condominium management committee. He was served with court papers last month.

The police told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Chew is also under criminal investigation for the reported fraud.

On Thursday, Assistant Registrar Leong Weng Tat ordered Mr Chew to pay up after having heard earlier from West Bay's lawyer, Mr Leslie Netto, in the condo's civil claim.

Mr Chew was also ordered to pay damages and costs to be assessed later. It is believed he had gambling debts.

According to court documents filed, Mr Chew's duties at the condo included taking charge of all cheque books, fixed deposit receipts and other documents such as bank statements, payment vouchers and correspondence files in relation to the accounts of the condo management.

As the sole employee in charge of the condo's finance accounts, he was also responsible for collecting, recording and banking all funds received by the condo.

He had the task of preparing the accounts in the annual audits for the annual general meetings, as well as updating and maintaining accounting records.

The 15-year-old condo in West Coast Crescent, in Pasir Panjang, has 318 units. According to the management committee chairman, Mr Chew had cleaned out the condo's management and sinking funds meant for upgrading, repair and maintenance, and paying contractors for work done.

The matter came to light in December 2007 after a new management committee took over. The chairman, Mr Jaffar Hassan, said yesterday: 'When we took over, there was just $1,200 left in the bank account for the condominium's upkeep.'

Mr Jaffar's team hired forensic accountants to trace how the money was taken in the 18-month period from June 2006. A police report was also lodged.

Among other things, it emerged that Mr Chew opened an additional bank account in the condo's name without getting authorisation from the committee.

According to court documents filed, he forged signatures to make cheque payments to himself. Cheques were meant to be signed by two office-bearers of the management committee.

Mr Jaffar said the committee was saddled with unpaid bills for cleaners, security guards and other contractors amounting to about $300,000.

There was also an unusable lift that needed $21,000 to repair.

Mr Jaffar said a general meeting was called and residents agreed to each contribute six instalments totalling $2,400. The contributions allowed the condo to continue with its upkeep.

He said: 'We had to move this at a very difficult time as there was a turnaround with an economic downturn.

'I hope the lessons learnt at West Bay will serve to make others more aware in the management of their estates.'

Source: Straits Times, 31 Oct 2009

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