Police in Thailand have uncovered one of the biggest romance scams in history totaling a whopping $US$182 million involving the chief finance officer of Essilor Manufacturing (Thailand).
Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) commissioner Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop Bhuridej said
The chief finance officer of Essilor Manufacturing (Thailand), Ms. Chamanan Phetporee was arrested and charged with multiple crimes including embezzlement.
Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said Ms. Chamanan was allegedly duped by a gang of romance scammers who invented “Andrew Chang”, an American medical officer based in Afghanistan. They said he inherited large amounts of money and wanted to transfer those funds to Thailand.
Through lies and manipulation, Ms. Chamanan ended up stealing from her company, and over six months from July-December 2019, she made over 250 fund transfers to 128 accounts at 70 banks in 17 countries.
“The romance scam was the beginning of the fraudulent financial activity that took place. Initially, Ms.Chamanan intended to transfer US$300 million and eventually managed to move US$182 million. Fraudsters then concocted stories which she believed,” he said.
The funds were transferred from the company’s accounts at JPMorgan Chase Bank in Bangkok and New York, CIB’s chief said. The police in Thailand discovered seven mule accounts with transactions totaling US$195,000 (67 million baht).
Investigation into Romance Scam
The company’s other senior finance officer, Mr. Sakchai Boonsuya, was also arrested and charged in connection with theft after allegedly co-signing funds transfers.
The CIB chief said that Mr. Sakchai denied attempting theft and said he co-signed the transfers as part of company procedures without being aware that they were fraudulent.
The investigation has been divided into three separate cases: theft of 6.3 billion baht, romance fraud, and involvement of a transnational syndicate.
According to police, 21 Thais and two Nigerians were arrested in Malaysia and are awaiting extradition to face charges in Thailand and the United States.
Four more Nigerians are believed to be hiding in Malaysia, and police are working closely with Malaysian authorities.
He said authorities tracked down the thieves and recovered around US$7,000 from them.
In addition to being a large-scale fraud, it is also considered the most expensive romance scam ever committed, according to CIB Chief.
The police suspect that Ms. Chamanan kept some of the funds for herself, but they could not trace any of the money to her accounts. A large number of stolen funds ended up in accounts linked to the romance scammers, he said.
As for the third case involving a transnational crime syndicate, police have issued arrest warrants for 80 Thais and Nigerians nationals, Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said.
Apparently, Ms. Chamanan did travel to Malaysia a couple of times to meet the lawyer of the American medical officer, but she never met the fictitious Andrew Chang in person.
Facebook profile used in romance scam
Pol Lt Gen Jirabhop said this case must be one in a million. Ms. Chamanan told us she agreed to buy a $US875,000 house and paid a deposit out of her own pocket of US$43,500.
The romance scammers drained her accounts and started inventing stories to get more,” he said.
Based on the findings of the investigation, Essilor Manufacturing (Thailand) hired legal teams to trace the stolen funds and some of them were recovered, including US$10 million found in Tonga.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, EssilorLuxottica SA recently sued JPMorgan Chase & Co for allegedly failing to notice that criminals transferred US$272 million from one of its bank accounts in 2019.
According to the lawsuit, JPMorgan Chase & Co failed to monitor the account properly or notice a “highly suspicious pattern of fraudulent transactions”. This “let thieves breach a daily withdrawal limit of US$10 million nine times in several months”.
According to the lawsuit, funds were also transferred to companies with names that indicated they were not in the eyecare industry.
In the lawsuit, filed last month with the US District Court in Manhattan, JPMorgan has of course denied all the allegations.
According to Essilor Manufacturing (Thailand) Co., J.P. Morgan knew in September 2019 of a “highly suspicious pattern of fraudulent transactions” but did not notify the company.