Manager lost $2m gambling customers' gold

A BULLION company manager lost almost $2 million of customers' gold deposits by gambling on the foreign exchange market without their consent, the District Court heard yesterday.

Tam Man-chiu, 32, turned to crime because he feared he would be sacked after one of his clients paid the company with a $25,000 cheque which later bounced.

He hoped that by trading in foreign currency he would be able to pay back the money and cover up the incident.

But his transactions were unsuccessful and the losses to the company spiralled as the manager spent eight months unlawfully investing customers' funds, hoping his luck would change.

He was arrested when the executive secretary of Ming Fung Bullion Company Ltd noticed a discrepancy in the accounts.

Judge Candy jailed Tam for four years and told him: 'You have had a successful career on your own efforts. The fact that your career and future prospects have been ruined is not a matter of mitigation.' The judge said Tam had brought disgrace upon his profession.

'Offences such as these do damage to the confidence the public are entitled to have in the investment industry in general and, in this case, in gold and foreign exchange dealings,' he said.

Francis Ho, defending, told the court Tam, who has no previous convictions, began work as a diamond factory worker in 1982.

He joined the bullion company in 1988 and rose to branch manager by April 1991. Mr Ho said Tam turned to crime because he had breached company regulations by accepting an uncleared cheque which was later not met.

Once he began trading and losing he had no choice but to continue, he said.

Prosecutor Kestutis Kripas said Tam was employed in the company's Kwun Tong branch.

He carried out the swindle by first creating fictitious gold deposits in dormant customer accounts.

Then when he began losing, Tam raided seven further accounts, withdrawing funds with which to gamble on the markets.

He covered up the offences by forging company documents, including the signature of account holders on withdrawal slips.

Tam pleaded guilty to eight charges of false accounting between December last year and June this year.

The company has reimbursed the customers who lost money.

When first questioned about the matter by his superiors, the manager disappeared. But he later telephoned the company, admitted the crimes, and arranged to give himself up.