By KC Vijayan
SINGAPORE - Thirteen Thai nationals have been convicted of cheating Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino out of S$1.37 million (US$1.02 million) in what a judge described yesterday as a case "unparalleled both in terms of sophistication and sum cheated".
The nine men and four women, aged 24 to 53, each received jail sentences of between 12.75 months and 17.25 months after a district court hearing that ended last month.
The syndicate set up a fraudulent scheme to obtain cash chips between May 6 and 7 in 2013. "This was clearly the largest syndicated casino cheating operation that had struck Singapore up to that point," said District Judge Soh Sze Bian.
The Thai nationals had been caught based partly on their suspicious activities captured on extensive closed circuit television footage.
Baccarat is a game in which bets are placed on either the banker or player having a winning hand of two or three cards.
Prosecutors led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Terence Chua showed that the group members had knowledge of a sequence of cards to place bets in order to win chips amounting to S$1.37 million.
Each of the 13 remained silent when called for their defence and jointly called an expert to testify on their behalf instead. Lawyer L. Devadason acted pro bono for the group in their mitigation.
District Judge Soh noted that the 109-day trial involved 53 witnesses and the jail terms were "entirely appropriate based on the facts and circumstances of the case".
The group collaborated to steal a playing card carrier from MBS casino on May 6, 2013, and took it back to a hotel room, where the cards were laid out, photographed, packed up and returned to the same cabinet in the same place.
The contents were photographed without disrupting the card sequence. The fraudsters even did a reconnaissance trip weeks earlier to test a key to open the cabinet.
District Judge Soh said although not every single one of the group was involved at each individual stage of the theft, all knew beforehand of their different functions, and "the collective purpose of these functions was to ensure the successful theft of the card carrier".
Group members rehearsed the plan to execute the theft and scam in Manila and at the Swissotel hotel here. The stolen card carrier that was returned was the same one used at the table on the following day where six of the group members took part in the baccarat game.
The group won S$1,372,300 in three hours of play from about 3am on May 7. Prosecutors argued they cheated not by winning every hand they played but by both winning and losing so as not to show a pattern.
Alleged mastermind Soum Sengmanivong, 53, who was the 14th accused and on bail, is said to have died in Laos in April this year. The court ordered a warrant of arrest to remain in force until more identification evidence is adduced. Police confiscated a total sum of about S$214,600 from the group.
Group members did a reconnaissance trip weeks earlier to test a key to open the cabinet. They rehearsed the plan to execute the theft and scam in Manila and at The Swissotel hotel here.
Members of the group crowding the area to conceal their theft of the card carrier from a cabinet. The group collaborated to steal the carrier containing playing cards, take it back to a hotel room where the cards were laid out and photographed, then packed up and returned (not pictured). The card sequence was not disrupted.