Banker rips off wealthy clients to spend at TAB - Sunday 16th of October 2005

A former Bank of New Zealand manager fleeced his wealthy Asian clients of $1.5 million to fund a three-year betting spree at the TAB.

Yong Joon Shioong - known as Rick Yong - pleaded guilty to eight fraud and forgery charges in the Auckland District Court.

He faces up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced next week.

The Serious Fraud Office said the 35-year-old made fraudulent transactions totalling $1.56 million. Of that he kept and spent about $497,000.

According to court documents, the SFO said that in the three years to last April, Yong placed bets with the TAB totalling $2.54 million.

He won back $2.31 million, leaving a net loss of $230,000.

Yong, who lived in Mission Bay for a time, also used the money to support his lifestyle and buy properties.

The bank is still working to recover some of the money.

Yong, who had no previous convictions, worked for the BNZ between 1998 and March this year and was part of a team of eight or nine private bankers.

He dealt mainly with wealthy Asian clients, negotiating financial deals and investment packages.

The SFO said Yong took or illegally used funds from five clients, starting in June 2002.

He did this by negotiating the sale and purchase of securities between clients and skimming off a cut for himself. That was diverted into his own accounts or those of his wife and parents.

He also forged a securities certificate that he faxed to a client to convince him the purchase of securities had been completed. But Yong had simply pocketed the clients money.

The BNZs general manager of personal financial services, Blair Vernon, said Yong managed to avoid detection for nearly three years because the securities did not mature for a long time.

He was dismissed by the bank in March for serious misconduct related to opening new accounts. The bank then reviewed his work when a client asked to redeem some of the securities purchased through Yong.

"That triggered the discovery of irregularities in terms of the records we held and those the client held.

"As soon as that became apparent we stepped up our investigation to a new level and brought in forensic accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers and also engaged both the police and the Serious Fraud Office."

Mr Vernon said staff fraud at the BNZ was rare, but when it occurred the bank refunded the customer.

Yongs fraud was "a very sad situation".

"Hes clearly betrayed the trust of his employer, clients, and his family and friends.

"Thats a shame thats relatively consistent with the level of deception which occurs when people get serious gambling problems.

"Those bets are rather larger than you or I might put on the Melbourne Cup, arent they?"

The bank was not aware of Yongs gambling problem before the investigation, Mr Vernon said.

The BNZ wanted to respect the privacy of its employees, but "the quid pro quo of that is we expect staff to be honest and open with us in terms of issues they have and where we can help them".

"We have quite a wide range of resources available to assist staff if theyre ever in an awkward situation, which might include problems with gambling.

"In this case he chose not to avail himself of that and got deeper into trouble."

The Problem Gambling Foundations director of clinical services, Cynthia Orme, said the foundation saw "quite a bit" of offending similar to Yongs but rarely on the same scale.

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