Indian chief priest sentenced to jail in Singapore for pawning temple jewellery
Singapore, May 30 (PTI) The 39-year-old Indian head priest of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday. According to a media report.
Kandasamy Senapathi was employed by the Hindu Charitable Board as a priest at Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown district from December 2013 until his resignation on March 30, 2020.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal breach of trust by dishonest misappropriation and transferring criminal proceeds out of the country, Channel News Asia reported. Six other charges were considered at sentencing.
Senapati, an Indian national, was caught in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, throwing out regular audit hours and revealing the missing jewellery.
In 2014, he was handed over the keys and accession number code to the safe in the temple’s holy shrine, which contained 255 pieces of gold jewelery belonging to the temple, with a book value of about SGD 1.1 million.
Senapati started pawning the jewels in 2016, taking them to pawnshops and using the money he got from pawning other temple jewels to recover them.
In 2016 alone, Senapati pawned 66 Sawaran gold jewels from the temple 172 times.
He continued this practice between 2016 and 2020, unknowingly recovering all the jewelery and returning it to the temple whenever an audit was scheduled. After the audit, he would again pawn the jewels to repay the borrowed money.
Senapati received SGD 2,328,760 from pawnshops from 2016 to 2020, some of which he deposited into his bank account and sent about SGD 141,000 to India.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak in Singapore, an external audit of the temple had to be delayed due to “circuit breaker” measures that banned non-essential activities in the country.
During the June 2020 audit, Senapati told a member of the temple finance committee that he did not have the key to the safe and may have left the key in India when he visited family. However, when the employee insisted on an audit, Senapati eventually admitted that he had taken the jewelery as a pawn.
Ultimately, all the jewelery was returned to the temple and the temple suffered no loss, the lawyer said.
Later, the temple finance committee member lodged a complaint with the police.
Senapati resigned from his post as he pleaded guilty to pawning the temple’s jewels, and pointed out the high pawn value of the jewels involved, said the lawyer who asked for a seven-year jail sentence.
Defense lawyer Mohan Das Naidu said it all started when Senapati wanted to help his friend raise funds for cancer and help schools and temples in India.
Senapati’s aim was to “never take away the jewels of the temple,” he said, but he was “stuck in this vicious cycle of pawning and redeeming, pawning and redeeming.”
In the ruling, the judge said it could not be ignored that the case involving SGD 2 million was a significant amount and more than previous similar cases.
In a statement after the inquiry, the Hindu Endowment Board (HEB) said it had ordered a gold audit after the incident at four of its temples – Sri Mariamman, Sri Srinivasa Perumal, Sri Sivan and Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman.
The audit confirmed that all jewelery was adequately accounted for. An expert goldsmith also certified the jewels returned by Senapati as genuine.
“HEB has further tightened its governance and internal controls to ensure that its charitable assets are protected,” the committee was quoted as saying.