Trio land behind bars for gold scam

Three Chinese nationals who tried to dupe undertaker Roland Tay into buying fake gold were each jailed for 20 months yesterday.

Hu Wanli, 37, Liu Aimin, 42, and Zhang Fasheng, 44, told Mr Tay that they had found gold in a porcelain urn while digging at a construction site here, and offered to sell him the loot for $120,000.

To convince him, the three men slipped a strip of real gold into an ingot that had been partially sawn down the middle.

Two of them retrieved the strip after pretending to cut it in front of Mr Tay, and handed it to a goldsmith to check.

The strip was verified as authentic and a final price was agreed on.

But Mr Tay, who is often in the news for providing free funeral services to the needy, smelled a rat even before they returned to his office in Tyrwhitt Road to complete the transaction.

Police arrested the trio on Nov 25.

Yesterday, the men pleaded guilty to engaging in a conspiracy to cheat Mr Tay, director of Direct Funeral Services.

The 199 ingots and six Buddha figurines they had offered him were gold-coloured, but were found after analysis to contain mainly copper and zinc.

The court heard that at least two of the scammers were in Singapore for the first time.

All of them had been briefed, before coming here, on how to hatch the scheme, though the court noted there was not enough information to conclude that a syndicate was involved.

The goods to be sold had been delivered by mail to an HDB flat in Hougang where the trio had rented a room for their stay here, while six strips of genuine gold were personally brought in by them.

The men, who had told their landlord that they were businessmen in search of business opportunities, decided to target Mr Tay after coming across an advertisement he had taken out in a magazine.

Besides the urn containing the ingots and Buddha figurines, the three men also claimed to have found old Chinese currency and a will.

They told Mr Tay that they were crane operators whose contracts here were about to end, and would not be able to take their find home due to import restrictions.

While passing sentence, District Judge Christopher Goh said that those who come to Singapore for the sole purpose of committing crimes had to be prepared to face the music.

Mr Tay told The Straits Times he had suspected from the start that the men were out to cheat him, but had played along initially.

The three men could each have been jailed for up to 21/2 years and fined.

Such scams have been going on for years.

In 2013, two men from China were also jailed after trying to sell fake gold ingots and statues in Singapore, while four Chinese nationals were nabbed in 2011 for a similar scheme.

Police have warned people not to let their guard down, and to be wary of offers that seem too good to be true.

This article was first published on Jan 10, 2015.
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