Chief priest received $2.3m by pawning temple jewellery: How he escaped audits, then got caught

Samuel Devaraj
The Straits Times
May 30, 2023

As a priest at Sri Mariamman Temple, he was entrusted with jewellery worth over $1 million that was used to adorn statues of deities at the temple in South Bridge Road.

But over five years, Kandasamy Senapathi pawned some of the jewellery, receiving over $2.3 million in total.

On Tuesday, the 39-year-old was jailed for six years, after pleading guilty to two charges of criminal breach of trust by an employee and two counts of removing the benefits of his criminal activities from the jurisdiction.

Six similar charges were taken into consideration during the Indian national’s sentencing.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Janice See said Kandasamy was employed by the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB) in December 2013 and was promoted to chief priest at the temple in July 2018.

In 2014, he was entrusted with the keys and combination number code to the safe in the temple’s holy sanctum. The safe contained about 255 pieces of gold jewellery valued at about $1.1 million, and Kandasamy was the only person who had access to them.

During special prayers or temple events, Kandasamy would have to retrieve the appropriate jewellery, adorn the deities, and return the items at the end of the ceremony.

From 2016 to 2020, he pawned 66 pieces of the jewellery over 172 occasions. He was able to carry out more transactions than the number of jewellery pieces by “rolling” the items pawned.

For example, he would pawn a piece of jewellery, receive the pawn proceeds, and then return on another day to redeem it with a second piece of jewellery.

From 2016 to 2020, he received a total amount of $2,328,760.

His activities went undetected as he was able to borrow sufficient money to redeem the pawned jewellery whenever he knew an audit was being scheduled.

Once the audit was completed, the accused would pawn the temple’s jewellery again to return the money borrowed.

The accused deposited a portion of the money he received into his personal bank account and remitted $141,054.90 to India.

Some time in March 2020, the temple scheduled its routine external audit to ensure that all temple items and valuables were accounted for. But due to the pandemic, it was delayed and was scheduled to be held between July 22, 2020, and Aug 18, 2020.

In June 2020, Kandasamy informed a member of the temple’s finance team who was arranging for the audit that he did not have the key to the safe, and that it was likely he had left it in India when he went there to visit his family.

But the finance team member insisted that the audit had to be conducted and informed Kandasamy that the safe may have to be broken open for its contents to be audited.

Realising that the audit would proceed as planned, Kandasamy confessed on July 2, 2020, to pawning the jewellery, and a police report was lodged on July 29, 2020.

All 66 pieces of jewellery he pawned have since been returned to the temple.

Kandasamy is no longer with the HEB.

In court on Tuesday, he was represented by Mr Mohan Das Naidu.

When asked by District Judge Shaiffudin Saruwan what his client’s motivation was, the lawyer said Kandasamy had initially wanted to help some friends in India, including one whose mother was suffering from cancer, as well as some schools back home.

“That’s how it started, and it got out of hand,” said Mr Mohan.

He also described his client’s action as a stupid venture and said the temple suffered no losses and that his intention was not to cause loss to the temple.

In response, DPP See said the real mischief was that Kandasamy used jewellery pieces entrusted to him to generate a side income and that it was merely fortuitous they were returned to the temple.

Kandasamy could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined for each count of criminal breach of trust.

He could have been jailed for up to 10 years, fined up to $500,000, or both for each count of removing the benefits of his criminal activities from the jurisdiction.

The Straits Times

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