SINGAPORE: A Gleneagles hospital official embezzled more than S$343,000 from his employer by altering patients’ bills and pocketing their cash reimbursements, forging some patients’ signatures to avoid detection.
Thomas Ng Eng How, 48, was jailed for three years and nine months on Tuesday (May 31) after pleading guilty to a combined charge of criminal breach of trust by an employee and eight forgery charges.
30 other similar charges were considered for sentencing.
The breaches, which took place from 2016 to 2018, were only uncovered through a thorough audit of Gleneagles Hospital and other facilities under Parkway Hospitals Singapore.
Auditors noticed a large amount of cash refunds issued by Gleneagles Hospital as a result of Ng’s actions, and the hospital made a police report in January 2018.
As office manager, Ng was able to make changes to patient bills in the hospital’s computer system, although he was tasked with obtaining permission from his superiors first.
During his employment, Ng learned that the hospital used to offer patients discounts or bill reductions by downgrading their hospital beds from time to time.
Discounts and reductions have been implemented by modifying the patient bill. This could be done even after the bill has been fully paid and the patient has been discharged. The patient would then receive a cash refund.
Ng saw it as an opportunity to embezzle money belonging to the hospital, the court heard.
Each month, he identified bills involving foreign patients, which were not covered by any insurance, and amounted to more than S$30,000.
He selected these patients as he believed they were unlikely to return to Gleneagles Hospital as often as local patients and less likely to find that cash refunds had been issued on their behalf.
Once these patients had paid the hospital in full and were discharged, Ng would modify their bills to reduce the final amounts or order his subordinates to do so. It would then process the cash refunds and hold them.
In some cases, Ng attempted to avoid detection by forging the signatures of affected patients on cash reimbursement slips issued by the hospital, to give the impression that they had acknowledged receiving the payments.
He forged such signatures on 36 occasions from March 2017 to January 2018, for amounts up to over S$26,000.
Ng used the embezzled money to finance his personal expenses, including gambling and buying a car.
He was arrested on January 12, 2018. Around S$10,700 was recovered at the time, which was returned to Gleneagles Hospital. Ng then returned part of S$48,000 to the hospital in March 2018.
Deputy Attorney General Dhiraj G Chainani called for at least four and a half years in prison, arguing that Ng’s crimes took place over a long period and were difficult to detect.
Ng abused the trust placed in him as a manager and “cautiously adopted a modus operandi” to embezzle the money, the prosecutor said.
In sentencing, the judge also considered Ng’s remorse shown by his guilty plea and partial restitution.
Ng could have been jailed for up to 15 years and fined for committing a criminal breach of trust as an employee.
The offense of falsifying a document purporting to acknowledge receipt of payment is also punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine.