Three Malaysians on trial for large-scale credit card fraud

PHILIPSBURG--Three Malaysian men stood trial Wednesday, for alleged involvement in large-scale credit card fraud in which jewellers, hotels, credit card companies and their clients were defrauded out of large sums of money. The men are facing three-year prison sentences.
All three were charged with fraud, attempted fraud, forgery and membership in a criminal organisation.
Through the assistance of a Mandarin-speaking interpreter, the men confessed to the crimes. They gave Judge Koos van de Ven largely similar accounts, stating they had been indebted in Malaysia and had been provided with a large number of credit cards with which they each had to purchase three expensive brand watches. They were to settle their debts by taking these watches to Malaysia, they said.
Suspects J.S.L.S. (20) and J.S.W. (23) both told the Court they were threatened by their "loan shark," who had said family members would be harmed in case they did not comply.
Without providing the name of their foe, W. said he was told his brother's hand would be cut off and his sister sent to Thailand to work as a whore, in case he would not cooperate.
The Judge said these stories were "vague and not verifiable," and confronted suspects with indications they had assumed a luxurious lifestyle during their travels from Kuala Lumpur, via Paris, Martinique and Guadeloupe to St. Maarten, where they were arrested October 20, 2013.
The men were found in possession of no less than 115 false Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards. W. and K.L.L. (28) also had false passports.
American Express had provided police investigators with an overview of the suspects' numerous credit card transactions stating US $43,000 was spent with 31 cards.
Besides that, unapproved attempts to make payments were made to the total amount of $151,000, and an amount of $90,000 was still pending awaiting approval.
Statements by the other credit card companies were not provided during Wednesday's court hearing, but it was said that various jewellery stores in St. Maarten were victimised for approximately $150,000.
The suspects were all first offenders, and were employed as a phone salesman, graphic designer and chef in Malaysia.
Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij considered the cases against the three defendants proven, as they had all confessed to the alleged crimes and had posed as bona fide credit card holders. Instead, they had used credit card data of other card holders.
"These men were at the end of the skimming chain and were the harvesters in this criminal organisation," the prosecutor said, who also considered possession of false passports proven.
He requested the Court to dismiss the suspects' statements they had been forced under threat to participate in these crimes. "They could also have turned to the Malaysian Police or seek other ways in solving their debts. Instead, they travelled in luxury, spending $6,000 alone in travelling to St. Maarten," said Noordzij.
"They defrauded several stores and had the intention to make many more attempts. They caused considerable damage to jewellers, credit card companies and their clients. St. Maarten is often confronted with skimming and harvesting activities through Front Street 'incursions' or by taking money from Automated Teller Machines. These men should not get away easily," the prosecutor said in demanding three years for the three suspects.
Attorney-at-law Geert Hatzmann said his clients were not members in the same criminal organisation. "My clients were not scouring the entire Caribbean. They were no partners in crime, but had only teamed up during one day," the lawyer said in pleading for his clients' acquittal on this charge.
He admitted that his three clients had used credit cards as if these were "scratch cards" at Goldfinger Jewellery, but maintained that only S. had made payments for a second watch and had also paid the cost for a hotel.
The lawyer said it could be proven that W. and L. had both been in the possession of false passports.
In pleading for a milder sentence, Hatzmann pointed to the fact that even though large amounts were involved in this case, he considered armed robberies of supermarkets in which only small amounts are taken to be more severe crimes.
The lawyer recommended suspended prison sentences and requested his clients' immediate release. The Judge turned down the request and said he will give his decision February 5.
(The Daily Herald)

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