36 months’ jail for ex-lawyer on the run for 15 years
An ex-lawyer who went on the run for over 15 years after misappropriating $88,000 of his clients’ money in 2007 was sentenced to 36 months’ jail on Tuesday.
David Khong Siak Meng, who fled to Shanghai where he remained as a fugitive until he was deported to Singapore on Sept 23, 2022, pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal breach of trust.
At the time of his offence, Khong was the sole proprietor of David Khong & Associates (DKA).
Deputy Public Prosecutor Edwin Soh said in May 2007 that Khong’s victims, a married couple, offered to sell a condominium unit to a buyer for $2.2 million.
Khong acted as the couple’s conveyancing lawyer for this sale.
In June 2007, the buyer exercised the option to purchase the property by handing over a cheque for $88,000 to Khong. He deposited the cheque into DKA’s office account instead of the firm’s client account used for holding clients’ money.
That same month, Khong made several cash withdrawals and fund transfers from the DKA office account, withdrawing the entire sum of $88,000 which he used to settle his personal debts and expenses.
On Aug 14, 2007, the day of completion of the sale of the property, Khong failed to hand the $88,000 to the couple.
The next day, he called his client and asked the man to meet him at a carpark at Kim Seng Plaza. He confessed to his client that he had misappropriated the $88,000 as he was experiencing personal problems.
Khong gave his client $20,000 in cash and asked for time to repay the other $68,000. He also handed his client a document titled “confession”, in which he admitted that he misappropriated the funds.
The client gave Khong until Aug 18, 2007, to pay him the remaining amount and said if he failed to do so, he would make a police report.
As Khong was unable to raise $68,000 in that time, he booked a flight to Shanghai on the night of Aug 18, 2007, to flee Singapore and evade being arrested.
On April 6, 2022, the Jiangsu Public Security Bureau in China informed the Singapore Consulate in Shanghai that Khong had been convicted that month for overstaying and working illegally in Shanghai. It was not mentioned in court what job he held.
Khong was subsequently deported to Singapore by the Chinese authorities on Sept 23, 2022. He was arrested by the Singapore Police Force that same day.
DPP Soh said Khong has not repaid his clients the remaining $68,000.
Seeking a jail term of 36 to 42 months, the DPP said Khong siphoned his clients’ monies for himself because he was motivated by greed.
He added that Khong did not commit the offence at the spur of the moment, but made a calculated choice to steal the money entrusted to him by his clients.
DPP Soh also said that no mitigating weight should be placed on Khong’s plea of guilt, adding: “The fact that he absconded with his clients’ monies for over 15 years inexorably points to his guilt. The accused now pleads guilty because he has little choice but to do so.”
In mitigation, defence lawyer Daniel Goh said his client’s surrender to the Chinese authorities was voluntary.
“He would not have been arrested and deported (if not) for his clear and deliberate act of surrendering with the knowledge that he would have to be deported to Singapore to face the music,” said Mr Goh.
The lawyer noted that this was Khong’s first brush with the law, adding: “He has matured in the long time away from home and should be afforded the opportunity to turn over a new leaf.
“He just wants to serve his time and hopefully see his ailing father before he passes on.”
For each count of criminal breach of trust as an attorney, an offender can either be jailed for life or receive up to 10 years’ jail and be fined.