Exchange ’robbed Peter to pay Paul’


By Cam Lucadou-Wells

The manager of a Dandenong international money exchange has faced court for defrauding hundreds of thousands of dollars from customers to pay off debts.

Saranya Mahendran, 33, of Pendle Hill in Sydney NSW, had stolen $307,365 from 46 purported money transfers at EMS International in 2017.

She pleaded guilty at the Victorian County Court to gaining financial advantage by deception, and creating false documents to prejudice another.

Mahendran used various methods to ward off her victims’ enquiries, including sending three false emails purporting to be from Bank West.

All the while, she was paying off debts and trying to preserve her failing business’s value, in order to sell it off.

Her scamming started in order to pay off $449,800 debts from money transfers that went missing overseas in 2016.

One of her victims lost $60,000, which he sought to assist his mother and critically sick father to move to Colombo, Sri Lanka for better health services.

It represented eight years of savings. As a result of the loss, he subsequently suffered great financial strain by taking out a loan to support his parents.

Another victim entrusted $120,000 to support his disabled brother-in-law and ailing mother in Sri Lanka.

In both cases, Mahendran stalled them with fake emails from Bank West requesting more details in order to release their funds.

She would also delay victims with excuses such as their money being frozen, or was held by the bank or that the money would arrive the next day,

Mahendran’s now-separated husband was a director of EMS International’s parent company – which liquidated in November 2017.

At one stage, her victims visited the EMS shopfront in Pultney Street only to find it was permanently closed.

Sentencing judge Gabriele Cannon said on 13 December that Mahendran failed to take proper responsibility after sustaining the alleged original debt.

She instead stole “substantial” money from customers to keep the company afloat while the business was failing, Judge Cannon said.

“The impact on them and those they were to support has been significant.”

In mitigation, it was a case of her “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

Mahendran had not been funding a lavish lifestyle, not been motivated by greed and had tried to set up a legitimate business.

Her “very good” rehabilitation prospects were shown by her early guilty plea, remorse and insight.

Judge Cannon also noted Mahendran was awaiting surgery for severe endometriosis. She was recently diagnosed with major depression.

“I can’t see the utility of imposing a jail term on you.”

Mahendran was put on a three-year community corrections order requiring her to stay in Victoria, including 150 hours of unpaid work as well as mental health treatment.