Understanding Criminal Breach Of Trust In Singapore

by | Oct 26, 2023 | Blog

The act of a criminal breach of trust is regarded with profound severity across the globe, and Singapore is no exception. A criminal breach of trust is a  critical offence, which unfolds when an individual entrusted with a specific property unscrupulously misappropriated or converts it for personal advantage.

The repercussions of this misconduct can be substantial, with severe punishment potentially culminating in grave sentencing , extending to long years of incarceration. Whether you’re a citizen, a professional business manoeuvring the Singaporean market, or an academically-inclined individual intrigued by law, comprehending the intricate details of such a committed criminal breach of trust is paramount.

What Is A Criminal Breach Of Trust In Singapore?

Criminal breach of trust, frequently shortened to CBT, is a serious offence. This occurs  when an individual entrusted with specific property dishonestly diverts or appropriates it for personal benefit.

Under Singapore’s Penal Code, specifically Section 405, the definition and punitive measures for such misconduct are explicitly laid out.

However, the manifestation of this serious offence is not confined to a single scenario; instead, it can apply to various situations:

  • It could include an employee clandestinely embezzling company funds,
  • A Director unscrupulously diverting organisational resources for personal circumstances dishonestly misappropriated
  • Or even a spouse misusing their partner’s property.

Punishments For A Criminal Breach Of Trust In Singapore

Navigating Singapore’s stringent laws, one finds that a conviction for a criminal breach of trust carries significant repercussions. Those found guilty may face severe penalties, including a life sentence or hefty fines, particularly if they hold positions of public trust or authority, such as public servants, seasoned solicitors, bankers, merchants, brokers, or directors.

As outlined in Singapore’s Penal Code, the range of punishments for such offences include:

  • Death – the ultimate penalty imposed in the most severe cases;
  • Imprisonment – incarceration for a defined period of life, where “imprisonment for life” signifies incarceration for the offender’s entire natural life;
  • Forfeiture Of Property – the legal seizure of one’s assets;
  • Fine – a monetary penalty imposed by the Court; and
  • Caning – a form of physical punishment involving beating with a rattan cane.

These potential penalties underscore the seriousness with which Singapore views a breach of trust, enforcing stringent measures to maintain integrity and trust within its society.

Criminal Breach Of Trust Sentence In Singapore

In Singapore, grappling with a criminal breach of trust scenario necessitates a thorough understanding of its potential repercussions. The country’s penal code is notably rigorous regarding such violations, imposing harsh penalties proportionate to the crime’s severity and the offender’s status.

In particular, individuals in positions of public trust, including public servants, bankers, merchants, brokers, agents, or directors, could face a significantly stern sentence, potentially stretching to life imprisonment or encompassing a hefty fine. The offence of Criminal Breach of Trust (CBT), which entails the misappropriation of funds or property, is regarded seriously in Singapore.

Per the amendments introduced to the Penal Code in January 2020, individuals found guilty of CBT may face up to 20 years of imprisonment, a fine, or both. The term may seem complex or obscure to some. Still, it involves three elements: Entrustment with property or dominion over property, misappropriation or conversion of that property, and Dishonesty in the act.

Even if an individual does not misuse the funds personally, but someone else does with their knowledge, both can be held liable. Understanding these elements can significantly simplify the concept of a breach of trust, illuminating its implications in the legal landscape of Singapore.

Best Examples Of A Criminal Breach Of Trust

Examples of a criminal breach of trust encompass a variety of scenarios where trust is exploited for personal gain.

  • Corporate: In the corporate world, this could involve a company director redirecting funds intended for business operations to satisfy individual needs or desires. This also extends to scenarios where an employee manipulates financial transactions to syphon money from the employer’s bank account.
  • Estate Management: A trustee misappropriating the assets entrusted to them also falls under this category.
  • Retail: Other instances might include a cashier diverting cash payments at a retail store for personal use, falling under the punishment for shop theft in Singapore or.
  • Service: A broker misusing a client’s investment funds also ties into the broader theft penal code. These acts signify a severe violation of trust, bearing substantial legal consequences in Singapore’s stringent legal framework.

Proving A Breach Of Trust

Establishing a breach of trust necessitates fulfilling several criteria:

  • Firstly, it must be shown that a relationship of trust, often termed a fiduciary relationship, exists between the parties involved. This could be an employer-employee, legal contract, trustee-beneficiary or any such relationship where one party has entrusted another with property or power.
  • Secondly, it must be demonstrated that the entrusted party misappropriated or misused the other else’s property or power in a way that was contrary to the terms of the trust or the detriment of the other party. This could involve embezzlement; misappropriation refers to unauthorised use or misuse of a position for personal gain.
  • Lastly, the breach must have resulted in harm or loss to the party who entrusted the property or power. This or wrongful loss could be financial loss, loss of property, or even reputational damage.

Anomalies Of Breach Of Trust

Navigating the difficulties of criminal breach of trust can often be complex and nuanced. One frequently encountered problem is distinguishing between civil and illegal forms of trust violations. Intriguingly, a single act breaching trust can reverberate across civil and criminal legal territories, albeit with differing ramifications.

The criteria for substantiation differ, as do the subsequent legal consequences, across these two spectrums. Notably, criminal proceedings demand a higher threshold of evidence and typically entail harsher outcomes than civil cases.

This complicatedness emphasises the importance of understanding the nature of the trust violation and the distinction between civil and criminal breaches, ensuring an accurate response to any allegations.

Conclusion About Breach Of Trust

Unravelling the complexities and navigating the maze of laws related to the serious offence of criminal breach of trust in Singapore can be challenging. Given the seriousness of such offences and their potential to drastically impact one’s personal and professional life, the importance of professional counsel cannot be overstated.

Armed with profound expertise and dedicated service, our team stands prepared to assist you in effectively your legal duty and shielding your interests from potential legal harm.

Schedule a free 30-minute consultation with our best criminal lawyers in Singapore today and allow us to accompany you on your journey towards understanding and resolving issues related to criminal offences relating to breaches of trust.

Frequently Asked Questions About Breach Of Trust

What Is The Difference Between A Criminal Breach Of Trust And Embezzlement?

Both involve the illicit use of property by individuals in a position of trust. However, embezzlement is often used to refer to the misappropriation of funds by employees, while criminal breach of trust has a broader application.

Who Is Liable For Breach Of Trust?

In instances of a criminal breach of trust, the individual entrusted with property or power and then misappropriates or misuses such property or misuses it is held liable. This could be an employee, a company director, a trustee, a public servant, or any other person in a position of trust.

How Do You Fix A Breach Of Trust?

Fixing a breach of trust begins with open communication. Acknowledging the issue is the first step in personal or professional settings. The party who breached the trust should ideally take responsibility for their actions, apologise sincerely, and commit to making amends. It can be beneficial to seek a third party’s perspective, such as a mediator or counsellor, who can offer impartial advice and facilitate communication. Lastly, rebuilding trust is a process that takes time and consistent effort, requiring patience from all parties involved.

Can You Ignore A Breach Of Contract?

Ignoring a breach of contract is generally not advised. Contracts are legal documents that bind parties to their agreed-upon responsibilities. If a breach occurs, it’s best to address it directly and professionally. The first step is to gather all related documentation and evidence. Then, communicate with the other party to see if the issue can be resolved amicably. If this doesn’t work, consider mediation or, in some cases, legal action. Ignoring the problem might lead to further complications, including potential financial liabilities and legal repercussions. It’s always wise to consult a legal professional when dealing with contractual breaches.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.