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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

'S'pore Madoff' cons investors of nearly $900,000

By Elysa Chen

HE could well be Singapore's Bernard Madoff, give or take billions of dollars.

Yugoslavian national Stefanovic Nenad, 34, used a Ponzi scheme to cheat his victims here of more than $880,000 over two years.

It was a scheme similar to Madoff's, though on a much smaller scale. Madoff pleaded guilty to a $100 billion fraud in the US and was hauled to jail to await sentencing.

Nenad, a derivatives trader, approached his victims promising returns as high as 30 per cent within a year.

He told them he had an account with brokerage Fimat Singapore, through which he would invest. Fimat Singapore is part of the Fimat Group of companies owned by French bank Societe Generale.

Nenad lied that he would invest their money using his account and pay them the promised returns.

Nenad used the money to cover his personal expenses and to repay earlier victims whom he had cheated the same way.

$50,000 cheque

One of his victims, Singapore permanent resident Skinner David Hamilton, 41, wrote him a cheque for $50,000 on November 2, 2006 at Raffles Place.

Mr Hamilton, a British national, gave Nenad another $100,000 cheque on March 14, 2007.

But the funds were never credited into the Fimat account.

In November 2007, when the returns were due, Nenad lied to Mr Hamilton that his $50,000 investment had grown to $65,000, and could be reinvested for more returns for another year.

Mr Hamilton agreed to do so.

He was also paid $6,000 as referral fees for introducing his friends to Nenad.

In March last year, Mr Hamilton asked to encash the March 2007 investment of $100,000.

Nenad then paid him $130,000 - a sum he obtained from cheating other victims - and claimed that the money was Mr Hamilton's investment return.

After collecting the money, Mr Hamilton decided not to continue investing with Nenad.

But he did not recover the $50,000 that he had given to Nenad in 2006 and lodged a police report against him on November 29.

Mr Hamilton was one of the luckier ones.

Singaporean Margaret Ng, 45, and her husband, met Nenad through a mutual friend. On March 13 last year, they were cheated of £60,000 (valued at $167,600 then).

By then, Nenad's account with Fimat had been closed. Investigations later revealed that the account had ceased on May 2, 2007.

Didn't return money

Nenad did not return any money to Madam Ng.

She and her husband lodged a police report on November 30 last year.

Another victim, Mr Greenville Andrew James, 45, a British national, got to know Nenad in June 2007.

About a month later, Nenad phoned Mr James and told him about the 'investment scheme' with a guaranteed 30 per cent return after a year.

Falling for Nenad's lies, Mr James transferred $165,000 into his bank account.

When the one-year period expired on July 9 last year, Mr James checked with Fimat and, to his horror, discovered that Nenad's trading account had been closed for more than a year.

Mr James lodged a police report on August 25.

Nenad was finally hauled to court to face 11 charges. There were eight charges of cheating, two of criminal breach of trust and one of forgery.

In his written judgment, district court judge Liew Thiam Leng noted that Nenad 'took great pains in covering his deception in the investment scam'.

Nenad had cheated his victims of a 'substantial' amount on eight occasions over two years.

Judge Liew added: 'The long period in which the offences were committed without detection is a relevant factor to be taken into consideration as it showed the attitude of the offender in repeating the offences time and again without any regard on the impact of the crime on the innocent victims.'

The judge also said that by failing to return the funds invested to his victims, Nenad had shaken confidence in Singapore's financial markets.

Nenad said in mitigation that he was a first offender who had been living in Singapore for eight years. He pleaded guilty to the four charges of cheating that the prosecution proceeded with and was sentenced to 64 months' jail.

Nenad is appealing against the sentence.

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