Singaporean on trial for helping Chinese businessman buy restricted properties in East Coast

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean man went on trial on Monday (Jul 4) for buying and aiding the purchase of three landed homes in East Coast that were allegedly held in trust for a Chinese businessman.

The three houses at East Coast Road are restricted residential properties that foreign nationals must seek permission to own under the Residential Property Act.

Singaporean Tan Hui Meng, 56, is accused of buying two of the houses in his own capacity and as the director of Hwampoa, a locally incorporated company.

He is also suspected of aiding fellow Singaporean Guan Aimei to buy the other property. 

This was allegedly done between 2007 and 2008 with the intention of holding the properties in trust for Chinese national Zhan Guotuan. Tan faces three charges under the Residential Property Act for the transactions.

Mr Zhan allegedly planned to buy all the houses on that stretch of East Coast Road and redevelop the land into a condominium, a prosecution witness who worked for him will testify.

The prosecution’s case is that Tan “cultivated and operated” the “extensive scheme” to buy the properties in trust for Mr Zhan. Both Guan and Hwampoa earlier pleaded guilty and have been sentenced for their involvement.

Restricted residential properties include vacant residential land, terrace houses, semi-detached houses, bungalows and shophouses, among others.

The criteria to own restricted property includes holding permanent residency for a least five years and making “exceptional” economic contribution to Singapore, according to the Singapore Land Authority’s website.

In March 2007, Tan allegedly obtained an option to purchase the first property for S$1.55 million, aiding Guan’s purchase of the house.

The other properties were allegedly bought by Tan for S$2.3 million in April 2007 and by Hwampoa for S$2.4 million in January 2008.

According to the prosecution, substantial amounts of the money to purchase and finance the loans for these houses came from two companies owned by Mr Zhan.

These were Xin An Technology Group, which had Mr Zhan and his family as the only shareholders, and Alphaland International, of which Mr Zhan was the sole shareholder.

Ownership of the three properties was eventually transferred to Mr Zhan’s nephew or son, both of whom had recently obtained Singapore citizenship, between 2012 and 2013.

The prosecution described the sale of the properties to Mr Zhan’s family members as a “sham”, as the money for the purchases originated from Mr Zhan or companies he owned and was “round-tripped” to make it seem like a legitimate sale had taken place.

Tan faces another three charges related to making a false statutory declaration that Guan held one of the properties in trust for him, to support Guan’s application for a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat in 2010.

As part of this, he is accused of instigating a solicitor to falsely certify an instrument of transfer for the land from Guan to himself.

Tan is also contesting two charges of using the false statutory declaration and giving false evidence at the High Court in a lawsuit related to that property in 2014.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Suhas Malhotra and Louis Ngia are leading evidence from Guan and her husband, who worked for Mr Zhan, as well as two CAD officers. Tan is represented by defence lawyer Loo Choon Hiaw.

The trial continues on Tuesday with Guan and her husband taking the stand.

The penalty for purchasing restricted property with the intention of holding it in trust for a foreign national, or abetting this offence, is up to three years in jail, a fine of up to S$50,000 or both.

The offence of making a false statement in a statutory declaration is punishable with up to three years in jail and a fine.

Those who use a false statutory declaration as true in a judicial proceeding or give false evidence in a judicial proceeding can be jailed for up to seven years and fined.

Anyone who makes a false statement to HDB in relation to the purchase of a flat can be jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$5,000 or both.

Those who falsely certify the correctness of an instrument of transfer, or abet such an act, can be fined up to S$5,000.

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