S'porean cheats Philippine hotel, then taunts: Catch me if you can

He allegedly taunted the authorities with a bold "catch me if you can".

They eventually did and now a Singaporean man is in jail in the Philippines for fraud.

Jonathan Tan Lee Seng had preyed on the kindness of strangers by pretending to be a robbery victim and ended up cheating a hotel in Dumaguete City in the province of Negros Oriental of 19,506 pesos (S$584).

According to Philippine court papers, Tan, 52, had turned up at Plaza Maria Luisa Suites Inn on Aug 18 just after 11.45pm, claiming he had been robbed in a nearby park.

He told police officers he had a booking at the nearby Bethel Guest House and they took him there.

As Tan claimed all his possessions had been stolen - he had yet to check into the hotel after arriving in the city - the police asked the hotel staff if they would accept Tan as a guest even though he couldn't pay a down payment.

The hotel's general manager, Mr Roy Cang, agreed. The room rate was 900 pesos a day.

Mr Cang, 65, told The New Paper in a phone interview: "I wanted to help him because I have Singaporean relatives."

Tan stayed at the hotel from Aug 19 to Sept 1 - a total of 13 days.

Throughout his stay, Tan, a retired computer engineer, made repeated promises that his brother in Singapore would send money to settle the hotel bill.

But his promises were empty.

Mr Cang even got his staff to help Tan contact Tan's relatives in Singapore to help settle his financial obligations and the Singapore Embassy to replace his passport.

According to a hotel staff's testimony in court, several e-mail were exchanged with a person who identified himself as Tan's brother.

Tan also asked the hotel to book him a flight to Manila - about an hour away by plane - so he could get to the Singapore Embassy.

In return, he said his brother would send a tracking number for the money to be transferred from Singapore. But the number turned out to be fake and the flight was cancelled. When Tan requested for another flight to Manila, the hotel staff refused.

Yet, he continued to stay at the hotel. "We took care of him, we gave him three meals a day," said Mr Cang.

On Sept 1, 2013, Tan disappeared without paying a bill of 19,506 pesos for his hotel stay and meals.

According to court documents, when Tan left the hotel, he also stole a laptop and an iPhone belonging to a pastor who was a hotel guest.

Mr Cang said that instead of being evasive, Tan appeared gentle, friendly and outgoing.

"He tried to make friends with the guests at our hotel," he said.

"It was only after he ran away that we realised he was making friends just so he could steal their things."

Mr Cang said he even paid 15,000 pesos to "various people" to help look for Tan.

Twice, TNP went to the address listed as Tan's home address in the court documents. No one answered the door of the terrace house in the eastern part of Singapore.

When TNP called the telephone number listed in the court documents, a man who identified himself as Tan's brother said he had not seen or heard from his brother "in 10 or 15 years".

Tan was eventually caught in Cebu - over 150 km away - after using his sob story to get money from another pastor to pay for a ferry and bus ride.

He was charged on Sept 30, 2013.

During the trial, Tan claimed he couldn't remember the date he had arrived in Dumaguete City.

Facebook posts

Yet, the prosecution highlighted several Facebook posts, made several years before this incident, that seemed to show Tan gloating over other alleged scams.

Some of the things he had written: "I'm a real scammer." "I'm still free doing fraud here in the Philippines." "Whee, catch me if you can." "Does anyone knows were (sic) in the world I hide HAHAHAHA Come and get me people."

On March 20 this year, Tan was found guilty of fraud by the Dumaguete City Regional Trial Court.

He was sentenced to serve between four years and two months and eight years jail at the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

He was also ordered to repay what he owed the hotel.

This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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