SINGAPORE - Certified public accountant Ewe Pang Kooi was a pathological gambler who usually placed bets of $150,000 each at the table because this gave him a kick.
His lifelong exposure to gambling started at the tender age of six, when he helped with his father's illegal gambling operation in Malaysia.
To feed his gambling addiction, the Perak-born Ewe turned to a life of crime, pocketing $40 million from various clients over a decade.
On Tuesday (May 28), prosecutors sought 30 years' jail for the 65-year-old Singapore permanent resident, given the "phenomenal" sum taken and his high degree of culpability.
The defence argued for a term of between 12 and 18 years, pointing to how he had fully co-operated with the police.
Justice Chan Seng Onn adjourned the case to consider the sentencing arguments. The judge is expected to give his decision in July.
Ewe is currently out on bail of $1 million.
He was the managing partner of accounting firm Ewe, Loke & Partners, and was also a director of E&M Management Consultants, which provided financial consulting and corporate restructuring services.
He siphoned money from 21 companies he was supposed to liquidate, including six subsidiaries of Hewlett-Packard (HP), and one company whose bank accounts he was managing. He also embezzled the assets of an individual in his role as a receiver.
In his professional roles, Ewe had control over the bank accounts and assets of the clients so that he could make payments to creditors or recover any assets. Instead, he transferred the assets into bank accounts that had him as an authorised signatory.
Between February 2002 and July 2012, he used the misappropriated funds to feed his gambling habit, settle debts or reinstate amounts he had siphoned off.
To cover his tracks, Ewe moved funds between the various entities. But his wrongdoings were uncovered in July 2012 after the HP group chased him about the assets from the liquidation of the companies.
In March, he was convicted of 50 charges of criminal breach of trust as an agent.
The story of how Ewe's "association with gambling had dogged him all his life" - in the words of his lawyer Senior Counsel Michael Khoo - emerged during sentencing arguments on Tuesday.
Growing up in a gambling environment, Ewe was helping his father collect betting slips when he was as young as six, said Mr Khoo.
He worked as a croupier at Genting Highlands Resort after completing secondary school in Penang and also in Newcastle, England, while he was studying accountancy.
In the early days of his accountancy career in Singapore, Ewe started gambling on cruise ships and later at the two resort casinos.
As his losses mounted, Ewe first sold his apartment. Then he helped himself to clients' money.
A psychiatric report submitted by the defence stated that his gambling addiction "took a life of its own and clouded his judgment".
Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi said Ewe had a permanent hotel room on Sentosa and usually wagered $150,000 because he did not feel the kick with smaller bets of $1,000. While Ewe did not amass riches from his crimes, he led a high life that he could not have afforded otherwise.
The DPP argued that a deterrent jail term of 30 years was in line with precedents.
They include the cases of former Singapore Airlines supervisor Teo Cheng Kiat, who was jailed 24 years for siphoning $35 million from his employer; former Asia Pacific Breweries executive Chia Teck Leng, jailed 42 years for swindling four banks of $117 million; and former Singapore Land Authority officer Koh Seah Wee, jailed 22 years for a $12 million scam.
The DPP noted that the "staggering" outstanding losses of more than $23 million after restitution in Ewe's case dwarfed those in the other cases, except for Chia's.
Mr Khoo urged the court to consider the case of Setho Oi Lin, who was jailed 12 years for duping 1,341 people into paying about $37.5 million for fake memberships, and that of accounts clerk Richard Tiang, jailed 18 years for embezzling $46 million from his employers.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.