Man cleared in stolen funds case

Man cleared in stolen funds case

A businessman who wired nearly $1 million in stolen money from the United States to Malaysia to help a woman he chatted up online was lured into doing it, a judge ruled.

Singaporean goods trader Hergobind Goklani, 51, was cleared of six charges, three involving a rare acquittal under the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Serious Crime (Confiscation of Benefits) Act.

Mr Gobind, who is married, met Rose Donca, who was in the antiques business, in a chatroom in 2012 and became "infatuated" with her. She told him she lived in Bedok but was in Malaysia at the time and needed help to wire money sent to her by her mother from the US to a Singapore account.

She said she needed it to pay an antiques dealer in Malaysia to release a shipment.

Even though they had never met, or spoken by phone, the goods trader agreed to use his company account to receive the money and then send it to two accounts in Malaysia and Dubai, as she had instructed.

However, it emerged that someone in the chain had used a false e-mail address, which resembled that of Ms Joaquina Rodrigues, director of Crown Bank in the United States, to deceive the bank into transferring the money from her joint account in two tranches through another US bank to Mr Gobind's company account.

Ms Rodrigues discovered the unauthorised transfers in 2012 and made a report to the FBI.

District Judge Lim Tse Haw found that Mr Gobind's actions were driven by his urge "to have an extra-marital relationship... in view of his strained relationship with his wife" and that he did not know the money was stolen.

In judgment grounds last month, the judge added: "He may have omitted to notice certain discrepancies in the documentation but one must remember he was only expected to reason like... a reasonable man under these circumstances and not that of an auditor.

"Mr Gobind was guilty of being careless in not noticing 'red flags' and warning signs as his judgment was clearly clouded by his infatuation with Rose."

Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien argued that Mr Gobind should have noticed several "red flags" about the two sums received, given his 20-plus years' experience as a businessman.

He said it was "incredible" that he was not suspicious that she wanted the payments to her suppliers to be channelled through his account - despite never having met or spoken to her.

The DPP said Mr Gobind ignored the warning signs as Rose had paid him about $29,000 in compensation, which he later gave to the authorities, and because he sought a physical relationship with her.

Defence lawyer Hamidul Haq countered that his client wanted to help Rose and build her trust in him. He said Mr Gobind had no reason to believe the money was connected with crime as it came in a bank transfer, but said that, as a married man, he "should not have let his infatuation get the better of him".

The judge found that, based on the chat log, Mr Gobind was "obviously smitten" with Rose, and that he came across as a "candid and truthful" witness. The judge noted that he had promptly lodged a police report on being told that the funds from the US had been "erroneously" transferred to his firm's account.

Judge Lim ruled that the prosecution had "at best" made out a "suspected" case of dishonestly handling stolen property and had not proven the charges beyond reasonable doubt.

This article was first published on Nov 28, 2014.
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