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Old 29th June 2007, 04:06 AM
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American couple got cheated of $7 million dollars used to buy a house in Singapore.

This wasn't published on international or US media, i think.

Unknown to many, the laws in Singapore are very laxed on white collar crimes, as opposed to drug offense punishment that everyone knows. 500grams of marijuana brings the mandatory death penalty, but cheating a few million dollars may only result in a few years jail.,00.html

Lawyer vanishes after US couple hands over money for house
By Koh Kian Beng
June 28, 2007 Print Ready Email Article

A home that an American couple wanted to buy so they could build their family and 'live forever' here in a country they now call home.

But that dream turned into a nightmare for Mr George Raymond Zage III and his wife, Ms Kaori Kathleen, both in their 30s.

A nightmare in which more than $10 million of their money went missing overnight after the lawyer representing them in the purchase deal vanished without a trace.

The lawyer? David Rasif.

The 43-year-old Singaporean disappeared after leaving for Bangkok in early June last year, shortly before $12 million was found missing from his clients' accounts.

The bulk of it was the $10.7m from the American couple, who have been living here for more than a decade and became permanent residents in May last year.

This week, the couple have gone to court to try to recover their money.

They have sued a jewellery firm, Jewels Defred, and its boss, Ho Chi Kwong, for selling $2.08m of diamonds and jewellery to Rasif shortly before the latter's disappearance.

In his affidavit, Mr Zage recounted how his woes began with the planned purchase of a house in the Holland Road area.

In February last year, the couple had agreed with the house owners to buy it for $11.4m.


Outside court yesterday, Mr Zage told The New Paper that the couple fell in love with the house and wanted to buy it so that 'they could live there forever'.

They engaged David Rasif & Partners to represent them in the deal, which was to be completed by 2 Jun.

The law firm had acted for the couple in three previous property deals here since 2002.

Everything went smoothly in the deal at first.

On 23 May, Ms Kaori issued a cheque of around $10.7m to another lawyer, who was assisting Rasif in the deal. The money was to pay for 90 per cent of the purchase price, plus costs.
Click to see larger image

Earlier, the couple had paid around $1.1m to the sellers to exercise the purchase option.

The couple were at first reluctant to issue a cheque for such a big sum to the law firm.

But they did so after being told that it was common practice for clients to do this, so that the lawyers could process the transaction on their behalf.

On 29 May, the couple received official approval to buy the house.

But things started to unravel on 2 Jun when the couple, who were in the US then, received an e-mail from the assisting lawyer.

The e-mail contained a copy of a letter from Rasif's law firm to the lawyers representing the sellers.

It said the couple had instructed Rasif's law firm to delay completion of the deal till 7 Jun.

The e-mail also referred to a conversation between Rasif and the couple that one of the sellers had been declared a bankrupt or was facing bankruptcy proceedings in the US.

Mr Zage, who took the stand yesterday, said the couple had not instructed their lawyers to delay the completion of the deal.

Neither had they spoken to Rasif on the bankruptcy, as indicated in the e-mail.

Mr Zage, who is represented by a team led by Senior Counsel Harry Elias, said they wanted the deal to go on as scheduled to avoid incurring interest payment for late completion.

During cross-examination by defence lawyer Hri Kumar from Drew & Napier, Mr Zage said he still gave Rasif the 'benefit of doubt' even though the lawyer had lied in the e-mail and acted without his instructions.

More importantly, the lawyer was also holding on to over $10m of his money.

Asked if he suspected that Rasif had stolen his money, MrZage said: 'It didn't come to mind because I had lots of questions at the point of time and there was limited information.'

His wife responded immediately to the e-mail, expressing shock that the bankruptcy issue had been discovered so late in the deal.

But there was no reply.

The next day, Mr Zage, who worked as a financial analyst and is now a partner in an investment firm here, spoke to Rasif from Thailand.

Rasif told him that the seller's wife or someone with the same name, had been declared a bankrupt in the US and it was wise to delay completion.

Mr Zage, who had never met Rasif in person, said he didn't accept the latter's explanation.

He told the court that he felt there had been enough time for the lawyer to perform checks on the sellers.

Still, he had no concerns that his money could have been stolen by the lawyer.

They agreed to a meeting in Singapore on 5Jun.

But it never took place.

That was the day things changed dramatically for the couple.

On 5 Jun morning, Mr Zage, who had returned to Singapore, got a phone message from Rasif's law firm that the lawyer, who had left for Thailand, would be back at 10pm that day.

He was told Rasif could meet him then.

Mr Zage immediately called the law firm but found that Rasif was not contactable by the staff there.

He then called the sellers, who told him that it wasn't true that the wife was a bankrupt or was facing bankruptcy proceedings in the US.

Despite several attempts, Mr Zage was still unable to locate and contact Rasif.

That was when he finally came to the conclusion that his money had been stolen by the lawyer, who had fled Singapore.

The next day, Mr Zage went to the police.

He told The New Paper yesterday that the court case has been difficult for the couple.

That explained why Mr Elias said he would make an unusual application in court for Ms Kaori not to undergo cross-examination by the defence, so as to reduce the emotional stress.

The trial continues today, with Ms Kaori expected to take the stand.

Last edited by touchring; 29th June 2007 at 04:16 AM..
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