A former Silversea Cruises’ bookkeeper is accused of stealing $3.56 million from the cruise company over a period of four years working in the line’s Sydney, Australia, office, according to a story this morning in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mary Ann Abellanoza, a 53-year-old mother of two from Plumpton, Australia, who made $88,000 annually as a Silversea bookkeeper, is currently charged with 98 fraud offenses.
These allegedly occurred over a four-year period and include obtaining a financial advantage by deception and dealing with the proceeds of crime.
From 2014, while serving as Silversea’s branch accounting supervisor, she’s accused of transferring millions of dollars into seven bank accounts under her control. In addition, she allegedly created fake invoices for billing.
In a statement sent to Travel Agent this morning, the line said: "Silversea Cruises takes this matter very seriously and we are taking all reasonable action to protect the business from Ms. Abellanoza's fraudulent conduct and the conduct of her husband. We have fully cooperated and assisted the police with their investigations.
"Customers can be assured that the business will proceed as usual and that our systems are secure. Given that both civil and criminal proceedings are ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this time. We thank you in advance for your understanding."
Both Civil and Criminal Charges
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the charges were filed in two separate cases. The first is a criminal case against the former Silversea employee before the Downing Centre Local Court. The next court date for this case is May 23.
The second is a civil case in that court currently under way under the auspices of the NSW Supreme Court. Such a case is designed to recover any missing funds from Abellanoza and her husband, Perven Abellanoza.
However, in that civil case, Justice John Sackar has ruled that the line cannot pursue the husband because the woman's spouse did not know the money was misappropriated.
In his defense, the husband, who is employed in the refrigeration business, has said his wife controlled the finances. He also said he thought the funds he received – reportedly $811,000-plus total – were “pure luck” as a result of his wife’s seven-day-a-week gambling habit.
He also said he was inept at using technology and that he did not know how to use an ATM.
Silversea is expected to appeal the judge’s decision, as it means that the husband can only be held liable for less than $2,000.
Employee Case is Credible
The judge, however, pronounced the civil case evidence against Mary Ann Abellanoza as “unchallenged and credible,” according to the Sydney newspaper covering the court proceedings.
The former employee has not filed a defense against the civil charges, so Silversea could apparently recover the funds from her via whatever legal means are available.
The alleged scheme surfaced in early 2018, after Abellanoza told Jose Santos, Silversea’s vice president of corporate accounting, that she had become a victim of an online scam and offered to reimburse the company.
Then another employee reported that Abellanoza had placed large quantities of hard copy documents in a shredding bin just days before resigning in April 2018.
The alleged fraud was discovered and detailed during a forensic accountant’s investigation. In court, an expert characterized the size and frequency of the transactions as “indicative of a deliberate and calculated fraud.”