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A port agent who duped a major Japanese shipping client into paying inflated berthing fees here has been sentenced to a year and two months’ jail.

Moses Wong Yew Fai, 54, falsified invoices from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) – inflating a bill by more than six times the first time, and a second invoice by more than 45 times before he was caught. Appearing in court on April 30, Wong pleaded guilty to one charge of forgery, with another similar charge being taken into consideration.

Wong was the managing director of TML Offshore and Agencies in 2022, when the firm was engaged by Japanese shipping firm Mizuho Sangyo to act as a port agent for one of its vessels due to enter Singapore.

TML, which provides port agency services to ships entering the port of Singapore, was to handle and pay for any services provided to Mizuho’s vessel while in Singapore’s port under the arrangement. TML would then collate the various invoices and issue a final invoice to the Japanese firm, which would then pay the Singaporean firm.

On Aug 4, 2022, Wong received an invoice for $6,472.75 from the MPA for port dues incurred by Mizuho’s vessel while it was berthed in Singapore. Around Aug 20, 2022, he photoshopped the soft copy invoice, changing various prices and inflating the total port dues to $42,626.50.

In September 2022, Wong paid MPA the actual fees incurred. Mizuho then paid TML the total amount, including the inflated port dues.

The court heard that sometime in early September 2022, Mizuho again engaged TML to act as port agent for another vessel that was scheduled to enter the port of Singapore. The vessel incurred $4,920.50 in port dues while berthed in Singapore. Some time in October 2022, Wong again photoshopped the soft copy invoice, which he had received on Sept 29, to inflate the port dues by more than 45 times to $223,490 – which the Japanese firm later paid TML for. The prosecution said Wong later admitted during investigations he believed shipowners like Mizuho would not dispute port dues levied by a country’s port authority.

However, his lies started to catch up to him in January 2023, when Mizuho sent e-mails to TML for an explanation on the significant port dues. In an e-mail reply, Wong lied that the port regulations in Singapore had changed.

Four months later, in May 2023, an MPA representative visited Mizuho’s office in Japan to promote and encourage the use of the port of Singapore. During the visit, Mizuho’s managing director showed the representative the invoices showing the inflated port dues. The representative then sent the invoices back to MPA, leading to the authority’s discovery that both invoices had been forged. On May 22, 2023, the representative made a police report. Over the next two days, Mizuho continued to e-mail TML to demand explanations over the cost of the port dues.

Wong was arrested on June 1, 2023, and released on bail the same day.

He eventually made full restitution to the Japanese firm between May 26 and May 31, 2023. During sentencing, the judge agreed with the prosecution that beyond the substantial monetary value involved in the case, Wong’s actions resulted in actual and potential harm to Singapore’s interest. The court heard that Mizuho had avoided using Singapore’s port as it felt it was overpriced – a result of Wong inflating the invoices. Checks by The Straits Times found that Wong was removed as director of TML in November 2023, but he remains a shareholder in the company. Singapore’s business registry on April 30 shows that Wong also holds directorship roles in four companies.

Those convicted of forgery can be jailed for up to four years, fined, or both, while the offence of forgery for the purpose of cheating carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.

Source: The Straits Times

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