Ex-AIA agent jailed 8 years for cheating businessman

Low (right), who had pleaded guilty to five of 21 charges, appeared weak in court yesterday and was supported by her aunt.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Former AIA insurance agent Sally Low was jailed for eight years yesterday for cheating a businessman into buying a fake US$5.06 million (S$7 million) policy in 2002.

The former high-flying agent, who faced a total of 21 charges, appeared weak in court yesterday and was supported by her aunt.

Low, 40, pleaded guilty on May 5, the third day of the criminal trial, to three charges of cheating, one charge of fraudulent use of forged documents and one of moving crime proceeds to a bank account in Hong Kong. The other 16 charges were taken into consideration.

It was the second time she had pleaded guilty to selling a fake AIA Thank You policy, after retracting the first guilty plea in June 2014.

The saga began in late 2002, when Mr Ong Han Ling, now 78, was sold a fake policy by Low, then an AIA agent. He and his wife were told by Low that they would receive guaranteed annual fixed returns of 6 per cent on the US dollar component of the plan and 7.5 per cent on the Singapore dollar portion.

After Mr Ong paid the premium, Low used the funds without his knowledge or consent to buy four AIA policies for him, his wife and their daughter.

Midway through the tenure of the fake policy, Low deceived them into giving the insurance proceeds from three of the unauthorised policies to her by use of fabricated computer errors. Low used the funds to buy condominiums in Cairnhill and Sentosa Cove and sent money overseas.

Her scheme came to light in 2008 after Mr Ong learnt from AIA that the Thank You policy was bogus.

He made a police report against Low in January 2010 and sued her for damages totalling US$2.25 million and $2.99 million.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Hon Yi, who had sought a sentence of nine years in jail, told the court that there was premeditation and planning by Low and that substantial sums of money were in play.

Low's lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, had sought a six-year jail term.

District Judge Shawn Ho said trust is at the heart of the adviser- client relationship and that trust was "ruptured" in this case.

"The accused exploited her expertise to take advantage of her clients' trust in order to reap a fortune. It was an amalgam of ambition and avarice, with probity absent."

The judge noted that Low had changed lawyers several times and had wasted judicial time. He took into account that Low had made voluntary restitution to the Ongs of about $4.33 million.

Mr Ong said: "My family and I are thankful that this criminal trial is now completed. Eight years is a very long time and at our age it is a large part of our lives."

Low, who was made bankrupt by her previous lawyers, had claimed she was a victim of a ploy with Mr Ong to cheat AIA.

She had admitted herself to the Institute of Mental Health but was certified fit to stand trial.

Meanwhile, the Ongs are suing AIA and Motion Insurance Agency for negligence and lack of care. AIA is alleging that the Ongs are in a conspiracy with Low to defraud AIA.

In March, Low appeared as AIA's witness, stating that the Ongs had conspired with her to defraud AIA.

This article was first published on May 20, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.