Ex-legal secretary jailed for swiping $214k

SINGAPORE - A former legal secretary who misappropriated about $214,000 was jailed for 30 months yesterday. Juliana Abu Bakar, 39, was ordered to serve another six weeks in prison for using counterfeit stamp duty certificates.

Juliana, who has previous convictions for forgery and theft, used the misappropriated money to pay for gambling losses.

She has paid back $10,000 to one of the directors of Atkins Law Corporation, where she was working when she committed the latest crimes over 10 months in 2012.

Part of her job as a conveyancing secretary was to prepare documents for property transactions, collect stamp duty and conveyancing money, and pay the relevant parties and the authorities.

On Nov 12, 2012, an Atkins staff member realised that no stamp duty had been paid for one of its conveyancing cases.

When she called the buyers, she was told that they had already paid in cash. They also forwarded a payment receipt.

Following checks, it was found that the cash was not handed over to the law firm, and the receipt was not an official one.

Further investigations showed that between January and October 2012, when clients paid stamp duty by cheque, Juliana would ask them to leave the payee column blank. She then made photocopies of the cheques and stamped the Atkins' company name on a copy.

She then filled in her own name in the payee column and deposited the cheques into her personal bank account.

When clients paid the duty in cash, she would keep the money and issue them a receipt from a receipt book she bought. She later made use of stamp duty payments made by other clients to cover up the money she took.

Investigations also showed that she forged three stamp certificates and handed them over as genuine documents to the banks offering mortgage loans for the transacted properties.

The Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore said in a statement that it takes a serious view of any individual or business that deliberately forges stamp certificates and knowingly misrepresents counterfeit "certificates'' as genuine.

Those found guilty of doing so face penalties of up to $10,000 and/or up to three years' jail.

Penalties of up to four times the stamp duty payable may also be imposed for late or non-stamping of documents. Juliana could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined for criminal breach of trust as a servant.

This article was published on May 8 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.