Ex-religious teacher who made off with nearly $61k from victims, including pilgrims given jail

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
September 26, 2023

A former religious teacher was sentenced to 11 months and two weeks’ jail on Tuesday after he misappropriated nearly $61,000 from multiple victims.

Rasman Saridin, 56, is a repeat offender with a history of drug abuse and was earlier sent to jail for other crimes, including theft.

His latest victims included people who handed him cash totalling nearly $33,000 for items such as tour packages for umrah – an Islamic religious pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The Singaporean misappropriated another $27,900 from five other people who paid for a three-year PhD programme in Islamic studies at an Indonesian university.

Separately, he also received $79,500 in total by committing offences under the Travel Agents Act. He had unlawfully carried out the business of a travel agent even though he was not licensed to do so.

In July, he pleaded guilty to five charges, including two counts of criminal breach of trust involving $28,850 and a charge under the Travel Agents Act linked to more than $6,000. Another 17 charges, including those involving the remaining misappropriated amount of nearly $32,000, were considered during sentencing.

In earlier proceedings, Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Chua said that one of the victims was a 44-year-old man who wanted to pursue a PhD in Islamic studies in 2014.

He came across an advertisement about a collaboration between an Indonesian university and a company called Azzam Educational & Event Management Services.

At the time, Rasman was the director of the company and helped the man enrol in the university. Details about the university were not disclosed in court documents.

Between 2016 and 2017, another of Rasman’s companies, Azzam Travel & Tour, faced financial difficulties. He then misappropriated $7,000 of the man’s university course fees and used it for his own tour business.

In September 2017, the university told the victim that a payment of about $7,000 for his programme was outstanding, and he had to pay the amount.

Four other students received similar notifications, and one of them made a police report in December 2017.

Rasman has since made restitution of $300 to the man.

DPP Chua told the court in July that in 2018, Rasman’s daughter registered a company called Khalifah SG (KSG), and Rasman organised events under it. From June 2019, he started advertising through various channels that KSG would be organising Umrah tour packages.

A 33-year-old woman and her family signed up for such a tour, which was supposed to take place from Nov 28 to Dec 9, 2019. She paid Rasman more than $6,000, but he kept the monies for personal use.

On Nov 28, 2019, the woman, her family and other members of the tour group met Rasman at Changi Airport. He told them that the tour was unable to proceed due to a “visa issue” and he became uncontactable soon after.

The woman made a police report the next day, and investigations revealed that Rasman did not hold any licence from the Singapore Tourism Board, which was needed to carry out a travel agent’s business.

Another victim, a 55-year-old man, had also engaged Rasman’s services for an umrah tour package for himself and 19 other pilgrims. Between October and November 2019, he handed $21,850 to Rasman, who misappropriated the monies.

Some time on or around Nov 27 that year, Rasman created a false air ticket booking – with the victim’s name – showing two flights between Singapore and Saudi Arabia on Saudi Arabian Airlines. Rasman then handed the booking to the man.

Rasman has since made restitution of $5,000 to him.

On Nov 28, 2019, a 30-year-old woman made a police report, alleging that Rasman had collected payments for “umrah package tours” from herself and 44 other pilgrims but later used the monies for other purposes.

In a separate matter, DPP Chua said Rasman was declared a bankrupt on Nov 2, 2017, and was not allowed to leave Singapore without the Official Assignee’s permission. Despite this, he left the country on three occasions in 2018.

On Tuesday, defence lawyer Kalaithasan Karuppaya requested that Rasman start serving his sentence at a later date. This was because Rasman’s wife had asked for a divorce, and he needed time to address the matter.

Rasman was offered bail of $30,000 on Tuesday and was ordered to surrender himself at the State Courts on Oct 3 to begin serving his sentence.

The Straits Times

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