Mastermind of work permit scam gets 16 months' jail

SINGAPORE - A 36-year-old Filipino woman has been sentenced to 16 months' jail for fraudulently obtaining work permits for foreigners, in what the Ministry of Manpower has described as one of the largest scams of this nature investigated thus far.

The foreigners had no intention to work as foreign domestic workers, but only wanted to stay in Singapore.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Thursday, Celeste Provido Apostol was found to have made false declarations in work pass applications for close to 30 foreigners.

She conspired with "recruiters" who sourced for foreigners who were in need of work permits to validate their stay in Singapore, and locals who were willing to provide their particulars as "employers".

The accused then matched the foreigners with these bogus "employers".

In total, the accused and the recruiters found 27 "foreign domestic workers" and 21 "employers".

The accused collected fees between $3,500 and $4,000 from each foreign worker for the work permit.

Some of them worked as performing artistes, freelance cleaners, manicurists, and in other odd jobs. None of them worked as domestic workers.

Apostol was charged in court on Jan 20 last year on 33 charges - 32 counts of false declaration offences and one count for carrying out the activities of an employment agency without obtaining a licence.

She pleaded guilty in court on Oct 15, 2015, to 16 charges, with the remaining 17 charges taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing. 

Mr Kevin Teoh, divisional director of MOM's Foreign Manpower Management Division said: "This is a serious case of deceit, and a blatant disregard for the work pass framework. We will not tolerate fraud, and will take firm action against those who wilfully deceive the Ministry."

The foreign workers involved in the scam have been prosecuted and convicted in court, said the MOM. They will be sent home and permanently barred from working in Singapore.

Culpable "employers" will be barred from hiring any foreign worker. Since 2014, 78 individuals have been convicted of furnishing false information to MOM to obtain work passes. If convicted, offenders can be fined up to $20,000, with possible imprisonment of up to two years.