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Pinoy tourist locked up 2½ years for trying to cash fake travelers checks

25 April 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao
District Court in Wanchai

A Filipino tourist who tried to exchange US$50,000 worth of fake travelers checks at a money exchange in Central was sentenced to two and a half years in jail after he was found guilty of using a false instrument.

The sentencing of Noel Rambuyon, 42, an aircon technician in Qatar, came just half an hour after District Court Judge Stanley Chan found him guilty of the offence. The defendant was tried for three days last month

The judge rejected Rambuyon’s claim that he went to the Travelex Worldwide Money shop in Central on Feb 6 last year only to inquire if they would change his Thomas Cook travelers checks.

Chan accepted the evidence given by two Travelex staff that Rambuyon had entered their shop and said he wanted to cash his travelers checks which were all in US$1,000 denomination.
Lim Ming-yee, a sales consultant at the shop, said she had undergone training to detect fake bank instruments, and knew right away that what Rambuyon had presented to her colleague Lily Wong was spurious because Thomas Cook did not issue US$1,000 checks.

The staff asked Rambuyon to wait, giving the excuse that it took time to verify the checks’ codes.  Unknown to him, they had already reported the case to the police and were just waiting for them to arrive.

Rambuyon was then arrested and charged with using false instruments.
In his statement to the police, he said the checks were given to him by his sister in Mindanao who said they were bequeathed to him by their father who died two years earlier.      

During the trial, Rambuyon’s lawyer had insisted the defendant did not know the checks were fake and had gone to the Travelex shop only to inquire if they changed Thomas Cook travelers checks.

The court was told there were no Travelex branches in the Philippines so Rambuyon had to go to Hong Kong to make the inquiry
Thomas Cook sold its financial services division, including its travelers check business, to Travelex in November 2000.

But Judge Chan, in his verdict, doubted the defense claim.

“In my view, the fact that there was no Travelex in the Philippines does not mean the defendant had to travel to Hong Kong to make an enquiry. There are phones and the internet to make an inquiry,” he said.

Chan also noted the facts that the travelers checks that Rambuyon presented to the bank staff were unsigned; that there are no travelers checks denominated in US$1,000; and that he presented 50 pieces of the documents, for a total value of US$50,000, to the staff.

The judge said there was no doubt the defendant was asking to encash the checks, not knowing that the shop would not make the exchange for that amount of cash to an individual on a single day.

In mitigation, the defense lawyer said Rambuyon was, at the time of his arrest, working  as an aircon technician in Qatar, where he lived with his wife and four children.

The lawyer also said that there was no real loss to Travelex as the checks were fake.

“That’s a fact, not a mitigation,” the judge said.

In imposing the jail term of two and a half years imprisonment, the judge said there was no discount because Rambuyon was convicted after trial.    

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