What is Criminal Breach of Trust?
The definition of Criminal Breach of Trust (“CBT”) is laid out under Section 405 of the Penal Code.
In order for the charge of CBT to be made out, the following elements must be fulfilled:
- The offender was entrusted with property or with dominion over property;
- The offender dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged.
What is entrustment?
Entrustment is liberally interpreted and there is no need for a formal trust of property. Access to and control over property may demonstrate entrustment of property (Sarjit Singh S/o Mehar Singh v PP). However, the person handing over the property or on whose behalf that property is handed over to another, continues to be its owner.
What is entrustment with dominion?
Entrustment with dominion refers to the general degree of control the offender has over the property. Supervisory and general control over property would demonstrate dominion over property. Furthermore, there is no need for exclusive or sole control to satisfy this element.
This refers to the dishonest intention to cause a wrongful gain or loss of a property. Where the person entrusted with the property was merely negligent in handling of the property, the dishonesty requirement will not be fulfilled. However, although the negligent person may not be criminally liable, he/she may still be civilly liable under any contractual agreement that he/she has with the owner of the property.
“Punishment for CBT”
Persons convicted under Section 406 of the Penal Code faces a sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment or a fine or with caning, or both. There are, however, certain circumstances which have warranted harsher sentences.
|Section 407 of the Penal Code||Criminal breach of trust by carrier, etc.||Up to 15 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.|
|Section 408 of the Penal Code||Criminal breach of trust by clerk or servant||Up to 15 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.|
|Section 409 of the Penal Code||Criminal breach of trust by public servant, or by banker, merchant, or agent||Up to 20 years imprisonment and shall also be liable to fine.|
In Wong Kai Chuen Philip v Public Prosecutor  2 SLR(R) 361, the Court stated that, “all other things being equal, the larger the amount dishonestly misappropriated the greater the culpability of the offender and the more severe the sentence of the Court.” Using this as a starting point, the Courts will then consider additional factors such as the quality and degree of trust reposed in the offender, which would encompass a consideration of his rank; the period over which the act was perpetrated; the use to which the money or property that was dishonestly taken was put; the effect upon the victim; and the impact of the offences on the public and public confidence etc.
Examples of CBT
A typical scenario of criminal breach of trust is where an employee in management of the company accounts takes some of the company’s money for his or her own use.
In 2000, Teo Cheng Kiat, a 47-year-old former employee of Singapore Airlines Ltd, was found guilty of 10 charges of CBT, siphoning a total of $35 million. He was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment.
In the well reported City Harvest Church saga, senior church leaders and administrators were found to have dishonestly misappropriated the church’s Building Fund by using it to purchase bonds and other expenses in order to fund singer Sun Ho’s music career. The group faced imprisonment sentences ranging from 7 months to 3 years and 6 months (inclusive of account falsification charges).
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