Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?

Last updated on March 18, 2021

Cartoon of hand taking money out of man's back pocket

What is Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT)?

The phrase “Criminal Breach of Trust” (CBT) may sound complicated, but let us break it down for you.

CBT usually involves a misuse of funds or property, and covers a wide range of activities.

Remember the City Harvest Church corruption scandal? It was all over the news when the 6 church leaders misused more than $50 million of the church’s funds to further the pop music career of Pastor Kong Hee’s wife. This misuse of funds that were entrusted to them by churchgoers is a classic example of CBT.

Other cases of CBT may include dishonestly pawning off a necklace you borrowed from your friend.

Elements of criminal breach of trust

According to section 405 of the Penal Code, CBT is committed when a person who is entrusted with property, or is given control over property, dishonestly:

  • Misappropriates that property;
  • Converts that property for his own use;
  • Uses/disposes that property in violation of a law or contract; or
  • Deliberately allows another person to do any of the above.

Entrustment: For CBT to be committed, a person must be either entrusted with the property, or have control over the property. Entrustment is easily found in cases where a professional receives property.

For example, bankers in charge of transferring money to another account, or admin staff who are put in charge of keeping signed cheques, are people who have been entrusted with property.

When determining whether the person had been “entrusted” with the property, it does not matter what the true identity of the party who had entrusted the property is. The person may be found to have been entrusted with the property even if the entrusting party’s identity is unknown, or not what the person had thought it to be.

For example, Raj Kumar Brisa Besnath was charged with CBT for pocketing $81,000 that he had been supposed to hand over to “Maria Lloyd”, a person whom the police believed to be a fake identity created by overseas scammers.

Although Maria’s actual identity remained unknown, the court found that she was still entitled to the money and could therefore entrust it to Raj Kumar, who was eventually sentenced to 13 months’ jail for CBT in 2021.

Dishonesty: The person must have also acted dishonestly. This means that they must have had the intention to cause someone (such as themselves) to wrongfully receive a benefit, or to wrongfully cause a loss to the victim.

In 2018 for example, Ong Kim Hock, the founder of Focal Marine, cashed in a company cheque worth a whopping $110,000 to his own bank account. Although Ong claimed that he took the money to repay debts he had incurred on the company’s behalf, this resulted in him dishonestly easing his own financial burden while his company suffered as it could not pay its suppliers. Ong was sentenced to 14 months’ jail for CBT as a result.

Misappropriation/conversion: Almost all cases of CBT involve a misappropriation of property. Misappropriation basically involves pocketing property (such as money) that is meant for another purpose.  One example would be how in 2013, an interior designer was charged with CBT after he spent $37,650 of customers’ money on personal expenses and gambling instead of handing the payments to his company.

Conversion involves dealing or using someone else’s property as though it were your own. Since conversion is so similar to misappropriation, the example of the interior designer could also be seen as a case of converting property to one’s own use.

Violation of law/contract: Sometimes your roles come attached with duties imposed by law. For example, the executor of a will has a legal duty to distribute assets according to a deceased’s will. If he dishonestly disobeys the law by keeping some of the deceased’s money for himself, he may be guilty of CBT.

The same goes for a contractual duty. Imagine if you owned a warehouse and signed a contract agreeing to store someone’s items until they returned to Singapore. If you dishonestly sold the items to make a quick buck, you may also be guilty of CBT.

Allowing someone else to misuse property: If you have been entrusted with money and deliberately allow your friend to dishonestly misuse that money, you may still be liable for CBT.

This is even though you had not misused the money yourself. Your friend, on the other hand, can be charged with the abetment of your crime.

Penalties for Criminal Breach of Trust

If found guilty of committing regular CBT, the punishment can include up to 7 years of imprisonment and/or a fine, which the court will decide the amount for.

Aggravated criminal breach of trust

If you hold a special position and abuse your power, you could be charged under the Penal Code provisions for aggravated CBT.

Under sections 407 and 408 of the Penal Code, carriers (people hired to transport property), warehouse operators and employees who commit CBT can be jailed for a term of up to 15 years and fined.

The most severe punishment is saved for CBT committed by public servants, bankers, merchants, lawyers, company directors and key executives, or agents under section 409 of the Penal Code. If convicted, accused persons can face imprisonment for up to 20 years, in addition to a fine.

Why impose harsher punishments on these specific people?

Well, just as we trust doctors with our lives, we often place a lot of trust in public servants and other professionals – these higher punishments serve to reflect the extra trust that we have in these groups of people.

Who is considered an “agent” under section 409?

In the City Harvest Church case, the Singapore Court of Appeal analysed previous Singapore and overseas cases of CBT, and concluded that an “agent” refers to someone who is in the business or profession of providing agency services.

Directors and key officials of organisations (such as corporations or charities) do not fall within the scope of this definition.

Is Criminal Breach of Trust an Arrestable Offence?

All forms of CBT are arrestable offences. An arrestable offence is one where the police can arrest a suspect without a warrant.

For example, if the authorities discovered financial irregularities in a company audit and reasonably suspect a certain employee of committing CBT, that employee can be arrested without a warrant.

Once a CBT suspect has been arrested, it is up to the police or the court to decide whether to release them on bail.

Will Criminal Breach of Trust Result in a Criminal Record?

Yes, if you are convicted of CBT, you will have a criminal record.

However, you might still have the opportunity to have your criminal record treated as spent after a certain period of time. This simply means that your record will be wiped clean. To qualify for having your record spent, you must first meet the following criteria:

  • If you were given a prison sentence, your imprisonment term must have been not more than 3 months;
  • If you were given a fine, the fine imposed on you must have been not more than $2,000;
  • You must not have any other conviction on your criminal record; and
  • You must not have any previous spent record on the register.

If you meet these criteria, you then have to remain crime-free for at least 5 consecutive years, starting from the date of your release from prison, or from the date that your sentence was passed if you were given a fine. Once you accomplish this, your record will be spent automatically, and you will be able to legally declare that you do not have a criminal record.

CBT offences could possibly lead to the loss of large amounts of money, as seen from the cases above. In order to prevent ourselves from being victims of this offence, we should always stay vigilant and check if there are any irregularities in our finances, or the finances of our businesses.

On the other hand, if you have been charged with CBT, you may want to discuss your options with a criminal lawyer, who will be able to better advise you on how to proceed with your case.

Arrest and Investigation
  1. Singapore’s Extraterritorial Jurisdiction: What Does It Mean?
  2. Your Right to a Lawyer After Being Arrested in Singapore
  3. What to Do If Your Loved One is Under Police Investigation
  4. How to Write a Letter of Representation to AGC in Singapore
  5. What is Entrapment and is It Legal in Singapore?
  6. What Happens When You Voluntarily Surrender to the Police
  7. Juvenile Crime: What If Your Child is Arrested in Singapore?
  8. Seized Assets in Money Laundering Investigations: What Happens To Them?
  9. Tasers, Batons, Shields & Firearms: When Do the Police Use Them?
  10. Stopped by the Singapore Police For Spot Checks, Etc: What to Do
  11. What is the Appropriate Adult Scheme in Singapore?
  12. Police Investigation Process for Crimes in Singapore (4 Steps)
  13. Arrest Warrant Issued Against You in Singapore: What to Do
  14. Police Arrest Procedure in Singapore
  15. Arrestable and Non-Arrestable Offences in Singapore
  16. What Should You Do If You Witness a Crime in Singapore?
  17. Can the Public Make a Citizen's Arrest in Singapore?
  18. What to Do If You’re Being Investigated for a Criminal Offence in Singapore
  19. "Right to Remain Silent" to Singapore Police: Does It Exist?
  20. Police Custody in Singapore: What You Should Know
  21. Search Warrant: The Issuance and Execution of It in Singapore
  22. Penalties for Lying to the Authorities in Singapore
  23. Can You Say No to a Lie Detector Test in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  24. Surrender of Passport to the Police and How to Get It Back
  25. Extradition: What If I Flee After Committing Crime in Singapore
  1. The Essential Guide to Bail and Personal Bonds in Singapore
  1. What is Private Prosecution?
  2. Magistrate’s Complaints, Private Summons and Private Prosecutions in Singapore
  3. Prosecutorial Discretion in Singapore
  4. Composition Offers and Fines for Criminal Offences in Singapore
  5. Plea Bargaining in Singapore: All You Need to Know
During Criminal Proceedings
  1. Making Objections at Trial in the Singapore Courts
  2. When is a Witness Testimony Unreliable in Singapore?
  3. Burden of Proof in Criminal and Civil Cases in Singapore
  4. Falsely Accused of a Crime in Singapore: Your Next Steps
  5. What is Acquittal & How Can One Be Acquitted in Singapore?
  6. Using the Defence of Diminished Responsibility in Singapore
  7. Death of a Party in a Legal Case in Singapore: What Happens?
  8. The "Unusually Convincing" Test in "He Said, She Said" Cases
  9. How to Adjourn or Postpone a Criminal Court Hearing
  10. TIC: Guide to Charges Taken Into Consideration in Singapore
  11. Can I Use the Defence of Intoxication in Singapore?
  12. When Can I Raise the Defence of Provocation in Singapore?
  13. Writing Character References For Court: What’s Their Purpose?
  14. Giving False vs. Wrong Evidence: What’s the Difference?
  15. Can I Represent Myself in a Criminal Court Case in Singapore and How?
  16. Claiming Trial as an Accused
  17. Pleading Guilty in Singapore: Consequences & Withdrawal of Plea
  18. The Defence of Unsound Mind in Singapore: What is It?
  19. Gag Orders in Singapore: Whose Identity Can be Protected?
  20. Mitigation Plea: How to Plead for Leniency in Court in Singapore
After Criminal Proceedings
  1. Recidivism: What Happens If You Reoffend in Singapore?
  2. Guide to Filing a Criminal Appeal in Singapore
  3. Criminal Motion: What is It and How to File One in Singapore
  4. Guide to Filing a Criminal Revision in Singapore
  5. Presidential Clemency in Singapore
  6. Repatriation or Deportation from Singapore: How Does It Work?
  7. Criminal Records in Singapore
  8. Visiting a Loved One in Prison or On Death Row in Singapore
  9. Getting Parole (Early Prison Release) in Singapore
Types of Sentences After Committing an Offence
  1. Fined for an Offence: What to Do If I Can't Afford to Pay Them?
  2. How Long Is Life Imprisonment in Singapore? And Other FAQs
  3. Corrective Training and Its Consequences in Singapore
  4. Consequences of Receiving a Stern Warning in Singapore
  5. Probation: Eligibility and Whether It Leaves a Criminal Record
  6. How Can Adult Offenders Get Probation in Singapore?
  7. Reformative Training in Singapore: When Will It be Ordered?
  8. Are You Eligible for a Mandatory Treatment Order (MTO)?
  9. Caning in Singapore: Judicial, School & Parental Corporal Punishment
  10. 7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?
  11. Day Reporting Order: Eligibility and Offender's Obligations
Being a Victim
  1. Ragging and Bullying: Their Penalties and What Victims Can Do
  2. Laws Protecting Informers/Whistleblowers in Singapore
  3. Counterfeit Medicine/Health Products: Redress for Victims in Singapore
  4. Breach of Protection Orders: What Can Victims Do?
  5. Using Your Right to Self-Defence When Attacked in Singapore
  6. Compensation for Crime Victims in Singapore: How to Obtain
Offences Against the Human Body
  1. Voluntarily Causing Hurt Penalties in Singapore (Non-Arrestable)
  2. Murder vs Culpable Homicide in Singapore (and Penalties)
  3. Is Suicide Illegal in Singapore? Will I Be Punished for Trying?
  4. Kidnapping Scam: Penalties & Responding to a ‘Kidnap Call/Text'
Sexual Offences
  1. Rape Laws in Singapore and How Offenders Can Be Punished
  2. Sexual Misconduct in Singapore: Offences and What Victims Can Do
  3. Falsely Accused of Rape in Singapore: What to Do
  4. Incest and Family Sexual Abuse: Penalties and Victim Protection
  5. How are Sexual Offenders with Special Needs Penalised?
  6. Cybersexual Crimes in Singapore and Their Penalties
  7. Legal Age for Sex in Singapore and Common Sexual Offences
  8. Consent in Sexual Offences in Singapore and What Victims Can Do
  9. Accused of Molest: Outrage of Modesty in Singapore
  10. What Can Victims of Sexual Harassment in Singapore Do?
  11. What is the Law on Sexting in Singapore?
  12. Revenge Porn: What If Your Nudes are Leaked in Singapore?
  13. Crime of Voyeurism in Singapore (Penalties and Defences)
  14. Date Rape: What to Do If Your Drink Has Been Unlawfully Spiked?
  15. STDs: Can I Go to the Police If a Partner Infected Me in Singapore?
Vice-Related Offences
  1. Alcohol Breathalyser Test in Singapore: Can You Refuse it?
  2. Are Sex Toys and Sex Dolls Legal in Singapore?
  3. Singapore's Legal Smoking Age & Common Smoking Offences
  4. Is Vaping Illegal in Singapore?
  5. Legal Drinking Age and Drinking-Related Laws in Singapore
  6. Is Watching, Downloading or Filming Porn Illegal in Singapore?
  7. Child Pornography in Singapore: Offences and Penalties
  8. Laws on Procuring Sex Workers & Sexual Services in Singapore
  9. Singapore's Drug Laws: Possession, Consumption and Trafficking
  10. Gambling Legally (at Home, in Public or Online) in Singapore
  11. The Offence of Human Trafficking in Singapore and Its Penalties
Property Offences
  1. What is a Protected Area and Place in Singapore?
  2. Penalties For Buying Stolen Goods in Singapore
  3. Penalties for Committing Theft in Singapore
  4. Committing Robbery in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  5. Penalties for Dishonest Misappropriation of Property in Singapore
  6. Vandalism Laws: Penalties for Damaging Property in Singapore
  7. Criminal Trespass in Singapore: What Happens If You’re Caught?
  8. Penalties for Littering Offences in Singapore
  1. What is a POFMA Correction Direction and How to Appeal
  2. Penalties for Cheating/Scamming and What Victims Can Do
  3. Penalties for Impersonating Someone and Victim Redress
  4. Singapore Fake News Laws: Guide to POFMA (Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act)
  5. Laws and Penalties for Doxxing in Singapore (With Examples)
White-Collar Crimes
  1. Tax Evasion in Singapore: Penalties and Examples
  2. Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT) in Singapore: What is It?
  3. All You Need to Know About Corruption in Singapore
  4. Anti-Money Laundering Laws and You
  5. 5 Things You Need to Know about Insider Trading
  6. Dishonest Assistance and Knowing Receipt: The Case of David Rasif
Road Offences
  1. Charged with a Traffic Offence in Singapore: What to Do
  2. DUI: Here are the Penalties for Drink-Driving in Singapore
  3. What Happens If You’re Caught Speeding in Singapore?
  4. Road Rage: What is It and How are Offenders Sentenced in Singapore
  5. Penalties for Dangerous Driving for Singapore Drivers
  6. Fatal Traffic Accidents: Are Drivers Always Punished?
  7. Guide to E-Scooter and PMD Laws for Singapore Riders
  8. Is it Legal for Drivers to Carpool in Singapore?
Animal-Related Offences
  1. Taxidermy of Animals in Singapore: Is It Legal?
  2. Legal and Illegal Pets in Singapore (HDB/Private Property)
  3. Is It Illegal to Feed Stray Animals in Singapore?
  4. Animal Abuse in Singapore: Offences, Penalties & How to Report Abuse
Offences Relating to Public Peace and Good Order
  1. Radicalisation and Terror Attack-Related Penalties in Singapore
  2. Causing a Public Nuisance in Singapore: What are the Penalties?
  3. Causing Public Alarm in Singapore: Examples & Penalties
  4. Public Assemblies and Processions in Singapore
  5. Misbehaving in Public: 5 Things You Need to Know
  6. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained
  7. Religious Cults in Singapore: Are they Illegal? Penalties & More
  8. Penalties for Financing Terrorist Operations in Singapore
Gang and Riot-related Offences
  1. Penalties for Unlawful Assembly and Rioting in Singapore
  2. Is Joining a Gang Illegal in Singapore?: Being Recruited and Penalties
  3. Organised Crimes: Penalties/Orders Syndicates Face in Singapore
Marriage-Related Offences
  1. Bigamy: Is It Legal to Marry a Married Person in Singapore?
  2. Marriage Offences in Singapore Involving Minors, Same-Sex, Etc.
  3. What are Sham Marriages and Are They Illegal in Singapore?
Certificate of Clearance
  1. How Do You Apply for a Certificate of Clearance in Singapore?
Other Criminal Offences
  1. Penalties for Abetting Minors or Committing Crimes Against Them
  2. Misusing the Singapore Flag and Other National Symbols
  3. What are the Penalties for Committing Forgery in Singapore?
  4. Arson and Fire-Related Offences and Their Penalties in Singapore
  5. Offences Against the Dead and What Family Members Can Do
  6. Laws on Prohibited, Replica and Self-Defence Weapons
  7. Laws to Tackle High-Rise Littering in Singapore
  8. Penalties for Attempting to Commit a Crime in Singapore
  9. Penalties for Assaulting a Person in Singapore
  10. Is Dining & Dashing Illegal in Singapore?
  11. Expats Charged With Offences in Singapore: What to Expect
  12. What are the Penalties for Hiring Phantom Workers in Singapore?
  13. What Are Ponzi Schemes? Are They Illegal in Singapore?
  14. Modification of Cars, Motorcycles, Etc: Is It Legal in Singapore?
  15. Penalties for Illegal Immigration and Overstaying in Singapore
  16. Criminal Intimidation: Penalties for Making Threats in Singapore