When greed overcomes good sense

How many of us have come across opportunities to be dishonest and, while feeling the temptation, have let fear of the consequences of being found out restrain us?

I’m not talking about opportunities of the Maddof magnitude but rather of those that once-practising lawyer Choy Chee Yean, 42, and Alice Lau Qian Xiu, 46, an accounts assistant, came across.

Theirs were two stories on the online Straits Times today.

Two years ago, Choy, who was a partner of Rajah & Tann, one of Singapore’s top law firm, was staying at a top Hongkong hotel while on work assignment when he came across a neighbouring room where the door was ajar and the occupant not in.

He went in and helped himself to several items including a cellphone and an iPod nano.

As for Alice, she was playing Russian roulette slot machines at Resorts World Sentosa, side by side with a man, who left without cashing out the credits within his machine.

After a short while, she realised that the credits were still inside her neighbour’s machine. She cashed out the credits and a ticket was printed stating an amount of $630. She then cashed out her own  machine and went to redeem her neighbour’s credits.

Meanwhile, the man, realising that he had left credits in his slot machine, got the RWS management to refund him the missing $630 worth of credits.

After viewing the security TV, RWS managed to find Alice who was still at the casino. She admitted what she did and returned the amount.

For their greed, Choy and Alice got their come uppance.

Choy, after receiving a suspended sentence in Hongkong,  was today struck off the rolls by the Singapore Court of Three Judges. This means he can no longer practice as a lawyer, even if he wants to.

Reading out their decision, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said that the legal profession cannot be seen to be tolerant of what Choy did.

Alice, who was charged in a magistrate’s court for misappropriating her neighbour’s cash-out credit, was fined $1,500.

Choy’s plea has always been that he was depressed and he was crying for help by his conduct. It’s not stated what prompted Alice’s action.

IMHO, I think both were motivated by greed pure and simple. And seizing the moment, they forgot that the candle isn’t worth the game, if they are found out.

For the majority of us, the fear of being found out and the shame and punishment that follow are enough to make us honest and keep our itchy fingers to ourselves.

What happened to Choy and Alice is another powerful reminder that greed, like crime, doesn’t pay. Indeed greed is a crime when you grab something that doesn’t belong to you, unless it’s someone else’s spouse! 😉

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5 thoughts on “When greed overcomes good sense

  1. I too have read the two reports. That the career of a bright young lawyer has been blighted in this way makes sad reading. The line between greed and dishonesty is indeed a very fine one. The Court of Appeal decision to strike him off the Rolls appears harsh bearing in mind the Hong Kong court had only seen fit to mete out a suspended sentence having regard to all the mitigating circumstances.A suspension together with a severe reprimand would in my view suffice. The fact that our Courts in Singapore are generally intolerant of any form of shortcomings is in my view a sad reflection of ‘immaturity not being able to see the broader picture and appears to adopt a blinkered view.
    As for the Alice girl, clearly there is a difference in this case. In her case, there were no mitigating circumstances as such. She owned up and made restitution when she was caught. That was dishonesty/greed of the first order. Surprisingly, the comeuppance she received appears wholly disproportionate to the one meted out to Choy.

  2. It is not the lack of money. The partner sure has money. It’s free money that people think and the naive thought of not being caught. There are many past incidents that one cannot comprehend. Like the doctor who filmed the nurses secretly and an army officer who was reprimanded for his conduct with his female subordinates. All who went through NS knows the maxim “You can do anything, but don’t get caught”, makes one bold. Avoiding potential pain is the reason why crime can be controlled. Simple camera Technology out today provides the evidence.

    At the end of the day the leaders who are entrusted with responsibilities must have integrity. If one gets caught, they deserve the punnishment because they are not clever enough not to get caught. I call it paying for stupidity. It’s such a waste of resources (years of education ) to see careers destroyed for that single moment of wrong judgement. But we are all humans and humans make mistakes. The chinese philosophy of killing the chicken to scare the monkeys is important. That’s why news is published to educate the majority that one should not try. It’s a very strong form of persuation.

    I am finding “Justice” by Michael Sandel an important course that I hope our local Universities can emulate.

  3. To Peter:

    I think being struck off the Rolls ain’t really such a big deal for this person, esp when he can reapply fort admission to the Bar after a suitably appropriate time. Also, he continues to work at Rajah & Tann albeit in a para-legal position. He may or may not have mental problems but I think in S’pore being mentally ill isn’t much of an excuse. Many a time pple who are manifestly mentally ill have been jailed and caned, for crimes ranging from killing to beating up pple, including family members. This may be to discourage the wily who can afford psychiatric support to escape punishment.

    Personally, I feel what both the lawyer n Alice did was just spontaneous greed; too bad for them they got caught. Unlike you, I think the lawyer being better educated and being a well-paid professional shld have been more restrained; hence shld have been hit harder!

    To Keng:

    Yes, it’s a sheer waste of resources and education and a terrible letdown to his cohort, professional brothers and family.

    If we are honest, we wld admit that all of us have greed inclinations within us, to a lesser or a greater degree. And all of us will come across big and small temptations some time in our lives. For example, if a restaurant overlooks a big item in our bill, would we tell the cashier? Would we if it’s a matter of a few $? etc

    For the two persons in question, they allowed temptation to overcome their better sense. Too bad they were caught and have to live out the second part of the famous pair called Crime and Punishment.

    Am I sorry for them? No one forced them to do what they did!

  4. It is a big deal.Your professional reputation will be tarnished for life even though you may be able to re-apply to be reinstated at some suitable time in the future, it will still be on your professional record that you have been struck off and the full reasons for it! Would you then feel confident in instructing a solicitor with such a track record?
    There is always an alternative route to just plain draconian punishment. We seemed hell bent on retribution per se. We appear blind to any type mitigating circumstances /rehabilitation.
    Therefore, it’s just plain ‘if you do the crime, then you must be prepared to do the time’ mentality.
    Is this how we described ourselves as living in a ‘civilised’ society?.. I think not.

  5. Peter, civilised society doesn’t mean criminals, educated and uneducated, can get off scott free or with only a slap on the wrist becos they claimed to be in some way mentally distressed. Think of the great civilisation such as Egyptian, Greek and Roman in the West and China (Ming and Tang dynasties) in the East: criminals in those times certainly weren’t treated with “humanity”, whatever that means. Every time we speak up for the criminal, we quite forget there’s always the victim on the other side of the ledger. What abt them? Civilised societies shldn’t have pple committing crimes beos they just feel like it, so much so tt those who don;t feel like it, will use mob rule to prevent that fm happening. Let’s be grateful tt in our country there is law and order to give criminals a fair chance, apres their offence.

    As for that lawyer who went on a stealing spree in a hotel, he deserves all he’s got. He’s a lawyer n shld know wot’s in store if/when he gets caught.

    Don’t like disbarrment? If i’m the Law Society I wld put in place a regulation that all members with previous criminal convictions should disclose upfront to a client his criminal record. And if there’s been a mitigation plea on diminished responsibility (such as depression), then let the culprit also disclose to the client his psychiatrist’s report. Tt way, clients will be protected fm ex-con lawyers who may slip back to their bad old ways. And if they want to give ex-cons a chance, don’t say they haven’t been warned. With such safeguards, I think the maddest of the profession will think twice be4 committing a crime, and certainly think twice be4 pleading insanity as mitigation.

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