Case Summaries

Koo Kah Yee v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 261

SUPREME COURT OF SINGAPORE

27 November 2020

Case summary

Koo Kah Yee v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 261
Magistrate’s Appeal No 9081 of 2020

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Decision of the High Court (delivered by Sundaresh Menon CJ):

Outcome: The High Court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment imposed by the District Judge below.

Pertinent and significant points of the judgment:

  • For offences under s 11(1) of the Remote Gambling Act (No 34 of 2014) (“RGA”), the general rule is that aside from cases where both harm and culpability fall on the lowest end of the spectrum, a combination of a fine and custodial sentence would typically be warranted (at [38][39]).
  • When determining the appropriate sentence, the court should apply a five-step sentencing framework modelled after the framework developed in Logachev Vladislav v Public Prosecutor [2018] 4 SLR 609 (“Logachev”) (at [68]).

Background to the appeal

1 The appellant, Koo Kah Yee, pleaded guilty to one charge under s 11(1) of the RGA read with s 109 of the Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) (“Penal Code”) for abetting, by intentionally aiding in, the provision of Singapore-based remote gambling services (“the proceeded charge”). Three other related charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

2 The appellant worked as an administrative staff member of an organisation that she came to learn was operating as a remote gambling syndicate. The syndicate comprised, amongst others, the following personnel:

 

  1. Three leaders, namely, Eric Seet, Steven Seet and Philip Seet (collectively, “the Seet brothers”). They operated two remote gambling four-digit (“4D”) websites: www.asure6.net (“the asure6 website”) and www.888pool.net (“the 888pool website”).
  2. One chief runner, who on instructions from the Seet brothers, would collect and distribute monies for illegal gambling operations.
  3. Three administrative staff, namely, the appellant, Sunny Lai Yen San (“Sunny Lai”) and a third person.

The operations of the asure6 and 888pool websites were centrally managed and controlled from Singapore.

 

3 Sometime in February 2012, the appellant commenced work at Erictex Trading (“Erictex”), one of three shell companies set up by the Seet brothers to facilitate the provision of illegal remote gambling activities. The appellant came to learn that Erictex was dealing with illegal 4D and horse betting activities. Specifically, she learnt that asure6 and 888pool were illegal 4D betting websites operated by Eric Seet and Steven Seet. She also learnt that the syndicate used a bookkeeping website called www.ES123.net (“the ES123 website”) to track the syndicate’s cash flow and expenses for illegal 4D bets.

4 The appellant also came to learn that two other companies, namely SB IT Developer (“SB IT”) and Best Laser Music House, had also been established. These two companies together with Erictex were companies that had no real legitimate business activities and together, they shared three office units. The appellant knew that the three shell companies had been established only for the purpose of carrying out illegal 4D and horse betting activities through the asure6 and 888pool websites.

5 The appellant’s administrative work was crucial to the operation of the syndicate and consisted of:

 

  1. preparing the payroll for the employees of Erictex and SB IT;
  2. keying in the accounts of the various companies onto the ES123 website;
  3. updating illegal betting records (such as payments received from punters) onto the ES123 website based on figures gathered from the 888pool website;
  4. issuing various cheque payments for, among other things, computer servers purchased for gambling activities, utilities, rental, and renovation of the office premises;
  5. filling up Erictex’s income tax declaration to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore for 2013 and 2014 using figures dictated to her by Eric Seet;
  6. managing GIRO deductions in respect of the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions and foreign worker levies for other employees of Erictex;
  7. assisting with applications to the Ministry of Manpower for work permits for employees; and
  8. managing payments of petty cash to employees for meals or stationery.

 

6 The appellant also recruited another administrative staff, one Sunny Lai, into the syndicate. The appellant, despite knowing that the syndicate was engaged in illegal activities, asked Sunny Lai if she would be interested to join Steven Seet’s operation and told her that her job would involve keying in data related to illegal gambling activities. Sunny Lai agreed to take the job and started working for the syndicate from July 2013 to the end of October 2016.

7 In November 2016, after a prolonged period of probes by the police, members of the syndicate were arrested. The appellant was arrested on 2 May 2017. Based on the betting records retrieved, the total betting revenue received by the asure6 website alone (for the period 22 November 2015 to 14 August 2016) was $18,207,212.62.

8 The District Judge sentenced the appellant to 12 months’ imprisonment on the proceeded charge and no fine was issued. The appellant appealed against the sentence on the ground that it was manifestly excessive.

The Court's decision

 

9 The purpose of the RGA is to: (a) prevent remote gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime or disorder; and (b) protect young persons and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by remote gambling (at [29]).

10 Unlike the companion provisions in s 5(3) of the Betting Act (Cap 21, 2011 Ed) (“BA”) and s 5 of the Common Gaming Houses Act (Cap 49, 1985 Rev Ed) (“CGHA”), s 11(1) of the RGA does not impose a mandatory imprisonment term. The plain language of s 11(1) of the RGA makes clear that the court is permitted to issue a fine of at least $20,000 without any accompanying custodial sentence. This may be appropriate where the level of harm occasioned by an offence is slight and the culpability is low (at [34] and [36]).

The imposition of fines

 

11 The general rule is that aside from cases where both harm and culpability fall on the lowest end of the spectrum, a combination of a fine and custodial sentence would be warranted even though s 11(1) of the RGA permits the issuance of a fine only. This serves the interest of deterrence and dispels the notion that the pecuniary rewards reaped from unlawful remote gambling activities can be enjoyed without consequence. Even where a fine alone is imposed, it would be appropriate to calibrate the fine to achieve the twin aims of disgorging the profits from the unlawful endeavour and also of punishing the offender (at [38][39]).

The sentencing framework for s 11(1) of the RGA

 

12 As the existing precedents did not offer much guidance for determining the appropriate sentence in this case, the Court set out a sentencing framework for offences under s 11(1) of the RGA modelled after the framework developed in Logachev (at [68]).

13 The first step was to consider the offence-specific factors and identify: (a) the level of harm caused by the offence; and (b) the level of the offender’s culpability. The factors that went towards harm included: (a) the aggregate value of the bets involved; (b) the involvement of a syndicate; (c) the involvement of a transnational element; and (d) difficulty of detection (at [57][60]).

14 The factors which went towards culpability included: (a) the degree of planning and premeditation; (b) the level of sophistication; (c) the offender’s role; (d) personal gain; and
(e) the duration of offending (at [61][65]).

15 It was clear that the level of harm caused in this case was at the low end of the severe range. This was attributable to the large aggregate value of bets involved, the presence of syndicate involvement on a transnational scale and the difficulty of detecting the offences (at [71][74]).

16 The level of the appellant’s culpability fell within the low end of the medium band. While the appellant performed an administrative role, she was crucial to the smooth functioning of the syndicate. Notably, she had also recruited Sunny Lai to join the syndicate’s operations, despite knowing the unlawful nature of its activities (at [77][79]).

17 The second step was to identify the indicative sentencing range in the light of the offence-specific factors, having regard to following sentencing matrix (at [83]):

18 Given the finding that the appellant’s conduct fell within the severe band of harm and medium band of culpability, the applicable sentencing range (aside from the imposition of a fine) was between 2½ and 4½ years’ imprisonment (at [84]).

19 The third step called for the identification of the appropriate starting point within the indicative sentencing range. The Court found that the appropriate starting point would be on the lower end of the indicative sentencing range, namely, years’ imprisonment (at [85]).

20 The fourth step is to make adjustments for offender-specific factors. The sole aggravating factor here was the three related offences taken into consideration for sentencing against the appellant. As against that, the mitigating factor was the appellant’s plea of guilt at the first opportunity. On a whole, the Court found that an adjustment to 24 months’ imprisonment was appropriate. Since the appellant faced only one proceeded charge, there was no need to consider the totality principle at the fifth step (at [87][88]).

The appropriate sentence

21 Therefore, the Court found that the appropriate sentence would have been 2 years’ imprisonment, which was around 28.5% of the maximum term of 7 years’ imprisonment stipulated under s 11(1) of the RGA. A fine to disgorge the entirety of the appellant’s profits would have been appropriate even though this was not sought by the Prosecution (at [89]).

22 In the circumstances, the Court found that the District Judge’s sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment was not manifestly excessive on any measure, and was in fact, quite lenient. However, since no cross-appeal was filed by the Prosecution on the sentence and no fine was sought as well, the Court declined to disturb the District Judge’s sentence. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed (at [90][91]).

 

This summary is provided to assist in the understanding of the Court’s grounds of decision. It is not intended to be a substitute for the reasons of the Court. All numbers in bold font and square brackets refer to the corresponding paragraph numbers in the Court’s grounds of decision.

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