Process And Cultural Considerations
He is in prison because he pleaded guilty to the crimes he was charged with by the prosector. So, there was no trial at which evidence contesting the charges was analyzed and compared to the relevant legal standard. As the linked story reports:
In court, the 33-year-old conman pleaded guilty to 12 charges of
cheating that transpired from January to October 2014.
The story also reports that he was suffering from severe depression at the time that he entered his plea. So, he may have been overcome with hopelessness and self-hate over ending up in his position and entered his guilty plea, in part, for that reason. Put another way, he may have pleaded guilty because he genuinely felt guilty.
Also, in much of East Asia, it isn't uncommon for criminal defendants to plead guilty to charges when they feel that they indeed morally wronged the victims and were wrong in the eyes of society, even if they might have technical grounds to fight the charges legally.
A decision to plead guilty in a case where there is some plausible ground upon which the defendant could dispute his guilty, isn't without justification and isn't necessarily irrational in these criminal justice systems.
Determinations of guilt and innocence and sentencing decisions are both made by judges, and judges convict defendants at much higher rates than juries do, in places where there is a right to a jury trial. (Singapore, even if it has "lay judges" that are part of a panel with a regular judge, doesn't have the equivalent of a U.S. jury, and "lay judges" tend to be highly deferential to the views of the career judge leading the panel.)
Pre-Western legal theory in China (and East Asia more generally, Singapore is dominated by Chinese elites even though it is ethnically diverse), there was a distinction between Confucian philosophy which placed an emphasis over decision making by enlightened "good" men, over the "rule of law" which had a connotation of being rule by devious lawyers who manipulated technicalities to pervert justice. So, societal attitudes of both every day people and elites, both in and out of the legal system, frown on and have an aversion to and skepticism of defenses to legal charges that appear to be mere technicalities that is much more vehement than it is in the West, where "rule of man" is considered undesirable and despotic, while "rule of law" is considered a key component of a just society even if it sometimes has undesirable consequences in individual cases.
In addition, in much of East Asia (based upon my personal discussions with judges from many East Asian countries while I was in law school where many East Asian judges came to study during mid-career sabbaticals), judges, de facto, regardless of the applicable legal standard, often strongly presume that everything that the prosecution tells them is true and that the defendant and any witnesses supporting a defendant are probably lying. It is similar to the pro-law enforcement bias of many U.S. judges in credibility disputes, but on steroids.
So, pleading guilty rather than going to trial in much of East Asia, is often simply a matter of avoiding an exercise in futility that could cause the judge to view the defendant more harshly causing the judge to impose a stiffer sentence than might otherwise be imposed for the crime.
Furthermore, in Singapore in particular, and also in much of the rest of East Asia, the capacity of the general public to organize extra-legal efforts to punish someone who is widely believed to have violated social norms is considerable.
In this particular case, the public had raised a substantial war chest through an internet based fund raising request, to persecute this man, and conducted an investigation whose results were used to reveal details about his personal life that he wished he could have kept private, even before charges were filed.
Singapore is a city-state, so there is really no place to hide. If the public thinks that you are a crook who got away with it, the potential that the public will act on your bad reputation is great. Accepting a judicially determined punishment for your alleged crime may be the most practical way to end further extra-legal punishment for your alleged crimes.
The Alleged Crime
Fraud can be established if someone is actually mislead, even if the unknowingly authorize a document that somewhere contains the information.
If the person promoting the scam discourages people from reading the contract language, this is particular likely, but simply having an excessively long contract that does not disclose a key term conspicuously when that key term is not otherwise brought to the consumer's attention in the transaction could also constitute fraud.
Also, "scamming" or "cheating", which is what he pleaded guilty to doing, is not necessarily a charge for fraud.
For example, it may be that in Singapore that charging an unconscionable price for a good or service (i.e. a price grossly disproportionate to its fair market value) is a crime in and of itself, even if there is full and knowing consent to the price.
In most places, overcharging is only a crime during a natural disaster or other emergency, which is considered exploiting people in a vulnerable situation or profiteering from a disaster or crisis.
But, it is also true that in most places, an unconscionable contract can be invalidated by the person victimized by it, even if the contract was validly entered into by the parties. In many places, it is a civil offense to cause a consumer to enter into an unconscionable agreement and this is punishable by restitution and a fine or penalty.
Singapore is notorious for criminalizing conduct that would, in other places, only be a civil offense in other places or a basis for bringing a lawsuit or a defense to a lawsuit, so it would not be surprising to me if "cheating" was a crime separate from fraud that was easier to prove in that legal system.