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The Straits Times
March 2, 2023
A property agent, engaged to help in the purchase of a condominium unit, misappropriated nearly $600,000 of her client’s money meant for parties including the property developer.
This led to a failure to complete the purchase under an option to purchase (OTP) agreement, despite time extensions.
The developer then exercised its right to terminate the OTP and forfeited nearly $1.2 million of payments, which the client had earlier made. To date, the client has not been able to recover the amount.
The offender, Liu Siyu, 32, was sentenced to three years’ jail on Thursday. She pleaded guilty on Tuesday to one count each of criminal breach of trust involving nearly $343,000 and forgery.
Another criminal breach of trust charge involving the remaining amount was considered during sentencing.
Both Liu and the 32-year-old client are Chinese nationals. The prosecution said that Liu was a property agent with ERA Realty Network from 2015 to 2017.
Her name could not be found on the Council for Estate Agencies’ public register in an online search on Thursday.
Liu, who is a Singapore permanent resident, first met the client some time before 2015 when they were studying in Britain.
In November 2015, the client and her father engaged Liu as a property agent to represent them in the purchase of a unit at The Crest condominium in Prince Charles Crescent near Alexandra Road.
As the unit that cost $1,785,000 was under construction at the time, the father-and-daughter pair were to pay developer Wingcrown Investment in instalments, based on a payment schedule in a sale and purchase agreement (SPA).
The client would then transfer funds for the unit’s purchase to Liu’s bank account. Liu was tasked to use the monies to pay the developer on her client’s behalf.
Initially, Liu paid the first 40 per cent of the purchase price to the developer on time.
She was also timely in paying $315,900 to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore for items such as the buyer’s stamp duty.
Liu later began to fall behind in payments to the developer, leading to a shortfall of nearly $343,000 between Sept 14, 2016, and March 31, 2018.
Within that period, Liu dishonestly misappropriated the amount and used her ill-gotten gains to buy Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin and Hermes luxury goods.
Due to the non-payment of several items of the payment schedule, the SPA was annulled on March 12, 2018.
Accordingly, the developer forfeited $379,195.58 from the progress payments made for the property purchase up to that point, with a balance sum of $838,354.42 to be refunded to the client and her father.
Following negotiations to continue with the property’s purchase via a private treaty sale, the developer issued a fresh OTP to the pair dated April 17, 2018.
Among other things, the unit’s price was increased to $1.9 million and the purchase had to be completed by June 26, 2018.
During this time, the client instructed Liu to issue cashier’s orders for the purchase.
On five occasions between April 2 and 27, 2018, Liu used messaging application WeChat to send the client images of cashier’s orders, each for between $35,700 and $442,500. But checks later revealed that these cashier’s orders did not exist.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Samuel Chew said: “The accused subsequently admitted that these were fake cashier’s orders that she had created by editing images of cashier’s orders with her handphone.
“The accused admitted that she did so to stop (the client) from chasing her to make payment for the property purchase.”
On Nov 20, 2018, due to a failure to complete the property purchase under the OTP despite time extensions, the developer forfeited nearly $1.2 million from the payments that the client had made up to that point.
Court documents did not disclose how Liu’s offences were discovered, but she made full restitution of nearly $600,000 in 2019.
Defence lawyer Riyach Hussain told the court on Tuesday that his client is remorseful.
Liu’s bail was set at $15,000 on Thursday, and she is expected to surrender herself at the State Courts on April 3 to begin serving her sentence.
Responding to queries from The Straits Times, lawyer Darren Tan said that in general, purchase monies for a property are not paid to the property agent.
But assuming that, somehow, the monies got into the hands of the property agent in some way, the deputy managing director of Invictus Law Corporation said: “The property agent would have breached her fiduciary duties to her client by such conduct, and the client is entitled to look to the property agent for the loss suffered by the client.”
Regarding the sum of approximately $600,000, Mr Tan said that the client is entitled to recover it from the property agent, even if the monies had been converted into another form or asset class.
He added: “Further, the client may be entitled to be compensated by the property agent for the approximately $1.2 million ‘forfeited’ by the developer – assuming that the client is unable to recover the monies from the developer – as well as any other loss brought about by the breach of the property agent.”
Mr Tan, however, stressed that there is no certainty that the client would ultimately recover anything at all from the property agent or any third party.