SINGAPORE — A magician who defrauded the Inland Revenue of Singapore of more than $70,000 in false Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) claims was sentenced to three years' jail on Wednesday (31 March), with the man still proclaiming his innocence during his mitigation.
S Chandran, 40, will also have to pay a financial penalty of $295,272. If he does not pay the penalty, he will have to serve an additional 30 weeks' jail.
Chandran, the sole proprietor of Paradize Consultancy, said he will be appealing his conviction and sentence. He still faces 55 pending charges under the Income Tax Act. These charges involve helping 46 individuals to submit fraudulent claims for PIC cash payouts and bonuses amounting more than $1 million.
In sentencing Chandran, District Judge Kessler Soh agreed with the prosecution that a substantial jail term was needed. As highlighted by the prosecutor, it was an unprecedented case of PIC fraud with Chandran acting as the mastermind, the DJ said.
He also noted that the manner in which Chandran had conducted his trial showed his lack of remorse. Chandran has not made any restitution to date.
Accused again changes mind about pleading guilty
While S Chandran had initially indicated he wished to plead guilty to his pending charges, his lawyer T M Sinnadurai told District Judge Kessler Soh on Wednesday that his client was "not agreeable" to the statement of facts, prompting Sinnadurai to discharge himself as Chandran's lawyer.
This was the latest in a long drawn case which has seen Chandran flipflopping on his defence.
Since he was hauled to court in 2016, Chandran, who also used to run a website on male sexual health, has had his guilty plea retracted at least once and has discharged multiple lawyers. Three days into the cross-examination of his trial, he failed to show up in court, prompting the prosecution to call the incident a "disappearing act".
Instead of pleading guilty, Chandran then mitigated for the three charges he was previously convicted on after trial. These are for assisting three claimants to make fraudulent claims under the PIC Scheme, resulting in IRAS disbursing some $73,818.
He invited several individuals to file PIC claims in 2014 and listed the claimants as the sole proprietors of three companies. According to the prosecution, Chandran assisted the claimants with registering shell companies. He encouraged them to find fictitious employees and helped them to contribute CPF to these fake employees for the purpose of making the fraudulent claims.
Numerous awards and health problems: accused
Representing himself, Chandran told the court of the "mental anguish" he had been under since he was charged in late 2016, and the numerous health problems he had. He also cited numerous awards he and his businesses allegedly won, saying that he wished to continue representing Singapore on the international front.
Chandran started off his mitigation by saying that all the applicants who submitted forms took "full responsibility" for their claims by signing on PIC documents, and that he had no means to check if they qualified for the scheme.
At one point, DJ Soh told Chandran that he had already been convicted and asked him to make a submission on his sentence.
Chandran then spoke for half an hour about his background, including how he was a sole breadwinner for his 33-year-old wife, 10-year-old son, elderly mother and relatives, most of whom suffer from health problems.
Chandran claimed that his mother was diagnosed with breast, anal and cervical cancer and had undergone chemotherapy. However, referring to the medication stated in documents tendered by Chandran, IRAS prosecutor Norman Teo pointed out that these were for high blood pressure and diabetes and for Vitamin D.
The medication did not gel with Chandran's claims about his mother's health condition, said Teo.
Chandran said he had major depressive disorder, chronic lung disease, chronic sinusitis, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and asthma, which would make a jail term unduly harsh on him.
On his contributions to society, Chandran said that he had "maintained good character and celebrity status in society", winning multiple accolades through his events and magic company.
These include the Asia top business award, life long learning award from the Workforce Development Agency, NTUC and Mediacorp, and from the Republic of Singapore Air Force where he previously served.
"As a magician in Singapore I broke the Guinness world record and made Singapore proud on the international level," he added.
He also claimed that he had lost business as a result of his court case, from his photos being published by the media.
"(I) hope the court considers that (I) have suffered from mental anguish, anxiety and distress as a result of charges which have been hanging over my head since 13 December 2016...I am anguished over my son getting bullied in school due to local and international media attention on my criminal case," he said.
He concluded by saying, "I would like to say that I’m innocent" and pleaded for leniency.
Accused created 'layers of fraud': Prosecutor
Teo sought 18 months' jail for Chandran per charge, saying that Chandran had conducted multiple layers of fraud by creating a cloak of legitimacy around his wrongdoings.
Chandran had taken steps to coach the claimants in answering queries posed by IRAS during claim assessment, the prosecution said. Chandran also concocted standard answers to “Frequently Asked Questions” in the event that the claimants were audited by IRAS.
He took steps to cover his tracks and deliberately avoided putting down his name as point of contact with IRAS to answer audit queries through proxies of claimants, Teo said.
As for the delay in proceedings, Teo said this was entirely due to Chandran's fault as he kept oscillating between claiming trial and pleading guilty, just like he did this morning.
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