A modern-day monk
In the run-up to his trial, former Ren Ci chief Ming Yi was interviewed by auditors and the police. The Sunday Times looks at the documents tendered in court to piece together this insight into his lifestyle.
By Ben Nadarajan
He had so many credit cards, he could not keep track of them. He gave supplementary cards to three men but could not remember how many each had.
What is known is that Ming Yi, 47, former chief executive of the Ren Ci Hospital, had at least nine gold credit cards to his name from different banks, and that the three people who had the supplementary cards included two of his former personal aides.
Didn't keep track of what he was owed
'I don't say 'Oh, I will come to you, after debts'. After all, it's not the hospital's money, it's not the monastery's money. It's my money, so I will just take it, OK, you pay me back and that's it.'
MING YI, on whether the three men he gave supplementary credit cards to had paid him back
No total self-sacrifice
'I still help people, but at the same time, I suppose, at times I still have to look after myself a bit.'
MING YI, when asked about the importance of putting money to good use
Raymond Yeung, 34, 'had quite a few of my supplementary credit cards', Ming Yi told police, adding that some had been returned.
Mr Kendrick Pang, 27, used to hold two but had returned one.
The third man who held supplementary cards is a Buddhist monk, Mr Koh Boon Seng. Ming Yi said he believed Mr Koh had his cards from United Overseas Bank and Diners Club.
The transcript gave no information of Mr Koh's relationship with the monk except that he is based in Hong Kong.
Information about Ming Yi's credit cards surfaced in interviews with auditors from Ernst & Young conducted with the monk on Dec 18, 2007. They had been hired by the Health Ministry to conduct a probe into the medical charity's financial affairs.
The following year, on March 27, he was interviewed by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) as part of its investigations into a possible criminal breach of trust.
The last 20 pages of the auditor's 120-page report reveal details of how the man had managed his personal finances.
He was quizzed about his 'quite substantial expenditures', especially on brand-name goods from labels such as Montblanc and Louis Vuitton. His choice of hotels included top-end names such as St Regis, The Regent, Four Seasons and Banyan Tree.
Ming Yi's explanation for his lifestyle was: 'I think we are living in a modern world.'
When asked what he meant by that, he replied: 'The modern world. I think the world is different, right? The world has changed. It's different.'
He added: 'A lot of religious people, not only myself, are very different now.'
He referred to the perception some people have that Buddhist monks should be garbed in torn clothes, remain in the temple and not 'go anywhere'.
'But as I said, it's a modern world now.'
=> Then why not wear a western suit?
He said that some of his spending was personal but he also bought things for friends, who would reimburse him.
Justifying his preference for brand-name goods, Ming Yi said: 'You may say some of these things really last for a long time.'
=> But why need to buy so many?
In any case, there were others who 'travel on first class all the time', he said, and added: 'Well, I don't do that.'
He was quick to make clear to the auditors that his personal expenses were not paid for from Ren Ci's coffers or from his Foo Hai Ch'an monastery's funds.
Instead, he used money from red packets given to him personally by devotees, although he did not keep a log of the cash he was given.
'I think whatever hongbao or whatever you do (with money from) devotees, people do not care, right? I don't think they really care in that sense.'
Ming Yi said he spent within his limits. 'I always don't look upon money as important... what I can, I spend and that's it; what I don't have, I don't spend.'
=> Then why jerk tears to raise millions on state TV?
But one of the auditors pointed out that Ming Yi had problems repaying his credit card bills between 2000 and 2002, and asked how he had managed to repay his debt to the banks.
Ming Yi again insisted that he did not take any money from Ren Ci or the monastery. Instead, the money came from saving up the red packets from devotees.
In the CAD interview, he said he also cleared his debts with the money paid to him by the supplementary card holders and reimbursements from overseas hosts for hotel expenses.
He also depended on money from his family members and a couple in Malaysia who had been instructed by an old monk (MM or SM?) to take care of him.
When asked to explain why he needed so many credit cards, he blamed it on his youth. 'If you asked me a few years ago, I'm young, just like anybody, right? I'm young... so sometimes you may not be thinking so carefully.'
He went on: 'That's why now, a lot of times, you will see that, oh, only things that I think are really... that I want, that I'll buy.'
He tried to downplay the number of cards he had by saying that he used them far less often now; he had thought of cancelling some just last year. He had stopped using most of them, and they were 'just there'.
He told the same thing to the police, and that he had terminated two cards from American Express and Citibank.
'Basically, I will be terminating more cards because nowadays, I do not have a personal executive to travel with me and my expenses are much less. Therefore, I would not need so many cards.'
He said he had given supplementary cards to Yeung and Pang because they were his travelling companions. 'Sometimes, it is easier for a lay person to go and pay the bills.'
Whatever a supplementary card holder spends is credited to the main account holder's bill.
Yeung and Pang would pay for hotel stays and food, he said, although they also used the cards for personal expenses.
He admitted that he did not set a limit on any of their spending and noted it only when the monthly bills arrived.
Nor did he query expensive purchases, saying: 'These are their personal purchases and since they are paying me back, I do not ask them.'
He maintained that the men repaid him either in Hong Kong dollars, by cheque or fund transfers into his bank accounts. But he was not clear about whether they repaid him in full or in instalments every month as he did not keep track of what he was owed.
'There is no arrangement, but somehow they would pay,' he told police.
Asked if he would 'chase' them for payments if huge amounts were racked up, incurring high interest rates, he replied: 'Like I said, I am not calculative. I would always think of how they had helped me in my job without complaints.'