SINGAPORE: Too Kim Lin, a 53-year-old Singaporean, orchestrated an extensive illegal business centered around renting 19 properties for short-term stays to both locals and tourists.
To manage this operation, he enlisted the help of four former maids.
Facing the consequences of his illicit activities, Too was fined S$1,428,000 (US$1.06 million) by a district court, with the punishment stemming from violations under the Planning Act.
Should he fail to settle the fine, a 142-week jail term awaits him, translating to about two years and nine months behind bars.
In a judgment disclosed on Wednesday (15 Nov), Too admitted guilt to 11 charges related to leasing residential properties for short-term accommodation, each stint lasting less than three consecutive months.
Additional charges pertaining to eight other properties were factored into the sentencing considerations.
The judgment, while redacting specific property locations, did disclose one – a 29th-floor unit at the V on Shenton condominium.
Court documents revealed the scale of Too’s enterprise, involving collaboration with various individuals and corporations.
Too pursued this venture actively, scouring rental platforms like PropertyGuru to identify more properties in the financial district for expansion.
Notably, he strategically operated through intermediaries, utilizing family members, including his older brother and mother, to enter into tenancy agreements on his behalf, all without his own name being directly involved, as reported by CNA.
In response to inquiries from property owners or agents, explanations were fabricated, portraying the rentals as legitimate arrangements for purposes such as accommodating Too’s girlfriend or elderly mother.
However, the reality was starkly different, as Too would promptly sublet the acquired units for personal profit once the tenancies were secured.
Employing a multifaceted strategy
In executing his illicit scheme, Too employed a multifaceted approach. He showcased and promoted his units on various platforms such as Airbnb, Booking.com, and HomeAway, subsequently subletting them to tourists and guests.
The earned rent was then utilized to cover the monthly lease payments for the 19 properties involved.
To manage the day-to-day operations of his illegal enterprise, Too enlisted the assistance of four former maids who undertook tasks like restocking supplies and toiletries for the properties.
Employing a strategy of disguise, Too utilized at least seven different mobile numbers.
Three of these numbers were dedicated to communicating with various property agents, a measure taken to avoid arousing suspicion and create the illusion of distinct individuals.
Furthermore, he provided one of his associates with a SIM card and an additional mobile line for direct communication with guests, handling tasks such as check-in instructions and addressing queries.
To remain undetected, Too implemented specific instructions for guests not to directly approach the properties.
Instead, they were directed to contact him or his accomplice before meeting near the properties.
The guests would then be guided through a car park or side entrance, bypassing security guards.
Signs of Too’s illicit activities began to surface, with the managing agent of one condominium reporting complaints about the high turnover of visitors.
Additionally, two landlords received feedback from their condo management suggesting that their properties might have been used for short-term rentals.
Throughout the period from 1 February 2018, to 30 October 2019, Too amassed a total revenue of S$1.47 million (US$1.09 million) from providing short-term accommodation at the 19 properties.
Despite incurring expenditures of S$701,544 (US$520,240) for lease payments, his profit stood at approximately S$768,000 (US$569,521).
The prosecution sought a hefty fine of S$1.54 million to S$1.76 million as legal consequences
In the pursuit of legal consequences, the prosecution advocated for a substantial fine ranging between S$1.54 million (US$1.14 million) and S$1.76 million (US$1.30 million)
This proposed penalty encompassed two components: disgorgement, aimed at eliminating the illicit earnings, and a punitive element designed to mete out punishment to the offender.
Contrastingly, Too’s legal representatives, Mr Nicholas Yong Yoong Han and Mr Andrew Wong Wei Kiat of Fortis Law, contended for a significantly lower fine, specifically S$756,860 (US$561,287).
They based this figure on their estimation of Too’s monthly expenses per property, totaling approximately S$410 (US$304), covering utilities, Internet, and cleaning fees.
However, the judge noted the absence of any documented evidence supporting these alleged expenses.
Debates also transpired regarding the potential jail term if Too proved incapable of meeting the fine.
The defense argued for a “conversion rate” of one week’s jail for every S$10,000 (US$7416) fine, emphasizing the financial challenges faced by their client.
In contrast, the prosecution pushed for a conversion rate of one week’s jail for every S$8,800 (US$6526) in fines.
Ultimately, the judge deemed the defense’s proposed conversion rate equitable, resulting in a total jail term not significantly diverging from the prosecution’s suggested default jail term.
Despite the court’s decision, Too remains resolute in his intentions to appeal against the sentence. Notably, his sentence has been temporarily stayed, awaiting resolution until after the appellate process takes place.