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The Straits Times, Singapore, 10 June 2011, p.C14
Burglar gets 7 years' jail and 24 strokes
He took some $620,000 worth of goods from homes, jewellery stores
By Elena Chong
IN A crime spree that spanned almost two years, an unemployed man stole or misappropriated items worth $617,175.
Mark Tan Kok Leng struck at three jewellery shops in Tiong Bahru Plaza, Jurong Point and Chinatown and made off with $543,856 worth of items from January to September last year.
He also prowled the corridors in Housing Board estates to spot flats to break into.
Once, he molested a 22-year-old victim, and in another incident, he pushed and robbed a tipsy woman returning home in the early hours.
Yesterday, Tan, 29, was jailed for seven years and ordered to be given 24 strokes of the cane on 13 charges involving stolen items totalling about $584,000.
Tan, whose sentence was backdated to Sept 28, had 28 other charges considered.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Quek Jing Feng told District Judge Roy Neighbour that Tan broke into flats in Pasir Ris, Havelock Road, Bukit Batok, Petain Road and Bukit Merah View and made off with goods worth between $350 and $27,600.
He gained entry through main doors or windows that were not secured.
In the robbery-with-hurt case on Jan 24 last year, he was at a block in Kim Tian Road at about 3.30am when he called out to a 25-year-old Malaysian woman who ignored him.
He followed her up a flight of steps, grabbed hold of her right arm and pushed her. When she lay unconscious, he stole her handbag and fled. She was given six days' hospitalisation leave.
About a fortnight later, he broke into Citigems jewellery store at Tiong Bahru Plaza to steal Valentine's Day gifts for his girlfriend. He picked the lock securing the glass panels and stole 12 items worth $16,078.
On Sept 21, he used improvised keys to unlock the roller shutters of Chung Hwa Jade and Jewellery at People's Park Complex and took $475,473 worth of jewellery.
Police recovered $455,360 of the loot when they raided his home five days later after his arrest at Bukit Gombak MRT station where a foldable knife was found on him.
He admitted selling 12 pieces of jewellery on two occasions to a shop for $20,113 and spending all the money.
Pressing for a stiff sentence, DPP Eunice Chong said his propensity to commit property-related offences showed his blatant disregard for the property rights of others.
Among the aggravating factors were the premeditated and calculated acts, the manner in which the offences were committed and the multiple charges.
Lawyer Peter Fernando said his client's major depressive disorder had caused him to commit the offences. But a government psychiatrist had found Tan to have a "personality disorder" which had no causal link to his offences.
The Sunday Times, Singapore, 12 June 2011
Excerpts: Jayakumar's book
The caning of Michael Fay
In his book titled Diplomacy -- A Singapore Experience, former foreign minister and later senior minister S. Jayakumar notes that many among Singapore's batch of pioneer diplomats did not have a readily available handbook to guide them but instead had to rely on learning their craft through 'on the job' training. Over the years, Singapore's foreign policy has been shaped by a series of watershed moments. But the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that defined many of these high-profile events has not been made public -- till now. In this extract, Prof Jayakumar shares his thoughts on the caning of American teenager Michael Fay in 1994
In late August 1993, Amarjeet Singh, who was then Judicial Commissioner of the Supreme Court, and his wife Kanwaljit Soin, an orthopaedic surgeon, hosted dinner for my wife Lalitha and my family at their home. Over pre-dinner drinks, Amarjeet pulled me aside and said he was a bit concerned because he was hearing a murder trial and had noticed that the relatives of the accused who had packed the court during the trial had kept staring at him intensely in a hostile manner. They did so even when he left the court. Later, his car had been vandalised outside his home.
He wondered whether this was just a coincidence or an attempt to intimidate him.
I told Amarjeet that it was highly unlikely that the two events were connected. Nonetheless, I brought this to Permanent Secretary (Home Affairs) Tan Chin Tiong's attention and told him to ask the police to look into this. Later on, Chin Tiong informed me that other residents in the vicinity had also complained of their cars being vandalised with spray paint.
I telephoned Amarjeet to tell him about this. I assured him that he was not the sole victim and the acts of vandalism could not be related to the murder case he was hearing. Subsequently, I heard that our police had caught the eight culprits, including an American teenager by the name of Michael Fay.
On 28 February 1994, Fay pleaded guilty to various charges of vandalism, mischief and retention of stolen property. He was sentenced on 3 March 1994 to four months' jail at the Queenstown Remand Prison, fined $3,500 and was to be given six strokes of the cane. Under our law, caning is mandatory for the offence of vandalism. Fay appealed against the sentence.
Chief Justice Yong Pung How dismissed the appeal and said that the offences were carried out 'relentlessly and wilfully over a period of ten days' and 'amounted to a calculated course of criminal conduct'. After the High Court dismissed his appeal, Fay petitioned the President for clemency.
Why did this become an issue?
Fay was the first Caucasian to be sentenced to caning for such an offence. We had expected that there would be some demarches from the US Government and a certain amount of complaints or criticism from human rights groups. Instead, President (Bill) Clinton got directly involved in this issue. President Clinton said publicly that he thought the caning sentence was 'extreme' and that the US Government had filed a strong protest to the Singapore Government. This immediately upped the ante.
If it had been nothing more than comments and statements by President Clinton, I doubt matters would have escalated. However, he was advised, wrongly in my view, to send in a formal letter (dated 4 April 1994) to President Ong Teng Cheong. President Clinton's letter referred to the clemency petition and requested President Ong to invoke his authority to ensure that the caning sentence was not administered.
That same month, some 24 US Senators signed a letter to the Singapore Government appealing for Fay's clemency. President Ong also received appeals from three US Congressmen and the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus. Once these appeals became known publicly, the issue took an entirely different turn ...
The question on the minds of many was, given this request from the leader of the most powerful country in the world, would Singapore buckle?
PM Goh Chok Tong and my Cabinet colleagues had numerous meetings on this issue. Our relations with the United States were very important for economic, security as well as strategic reasons. The Cabinet had intensive consultations and discussions on the various options ...
We had to weigh all the considerations carefully. At one stage, some senior MFA officials suggested to me to contrive a 'bloodless caning' - to cane Fay but stop short of bloodying and scarring him. They argued that some of the Americans were presenting the caning sentence as a barbaric punishment which was tantamount to torture since it would be bloody and leave permanent scars. Therefore we could have a 'bloodless caning' without visible marks of injury as one way of blunting such criticism. In fact, I was dismayed that MFA had sent out an information note airing this suggestion and I had to chide the senior official for not having cleared the note with me before circulating it. To me, this option was an obvious non-starter. Word would surely get out even if we could make such special arrangements. The Government would lose all credibility. Besides, we would have no answer if future offenders also requested such 'bloodless caning'.
Others privately suggested contriving some medical grounds on Fay's behalf to dispense with the caning altogether. Yet others suggested using a lighter cane that would be less painful and leave no marks or injury. To me, all these 'creative' options were out of the question.
It defeated the whole purpose of caning and no doubt would do nothing but undermine the integrity of our system.
After much deliberation, the Cabinet concluded in April 1994 that it was not tenable and not credible to completely waive the punishment of caning. To do so would bring our laws, government and institutions into disrepute and contempt.
We did not want to go out of the way to provoke the United States or seriously damage our bilateral relations. But at the same time, it concerned an issue of our sovereign right to punish those who break the laws in Singapore according to the laws of the land which were applicable to all.
After weighing all the factors, we decided we should not totally rebuff President Clinton's appeal, and the final decision was to reduce the number of strokes of caning from six to four.
When Michael Fay returned to the United States in June 1994, he had several run-ins with US authorities.
Years later, after Clinton had stepped down as US President, he visited Singapore and PM Goh kept up his links with him. During a dinner which Chok Tong hosted for him at the Fullerton Hotel in May 2002, Clinton raised the topic of Michael Fay in a lighthearted manner. He said he had learnt that Fay had quarrelled with his father. Clinton quipped, 'You should have caned him more' and also said that Fay's father should have caned him earlier ...
This episode shows that, from time to time, we may need to stand up to intense pressure from bigger countries - in this case, a global superpower and the most powerful country in the world - even though a high price may have to be paid. We have to preserve our fundamental sovereign right to enforce our laws without discrimination.
Copyright © 2011 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.
The Straits Times, Singapore, 24 June 2011, p.A3
Serial burglar stole $1m in 2-year spree
His latest crimes began just six months after he served 9-year sentence
By Elena Chong
A SERIAL burglar for whom jail terms and corrective training stints have merely been breaks between his housebreaking sprees has been put away for a long time -- 13 years.
Odd-job worker Bay Buck Siong (right), 48, will also have to suffer 24 strokes of the cane for having stolen almost $1 million in cash and property over two years.
His latest series of break-ins involved about 140 flats from Ang Mo Kio to Tampines and Woodlands between February 2009 and January this year, and began barely six months after his release from a nine-year and 24-stroke sentence.
He sold most of the stolen items in Chinatown and Geylang, and gambled away all the cash.
When he vowed yesterday not to commit any more offences, District Judge Paul Quan was sceptical.
The judge said to him: "Your track record does not give me the confidence that you will not re-offend."
Noting that Bay had been jailed seven years for similar offences in 1993, and given corrective training and caning in 1999, the judge added: "Mr Bay, your track record shows that every time you are released from your sentence, you re-offend."
Bay, taking another stab at extracting leniency, said he was remorseful and that the latest crime spree would be his last.
Judge Quan replied: "You are a menace to society, and you should be kept out of circulation. You leave me with no choice but to impose a lengthy term of preventive detention on you." Bay has no prospects of early release. Assistant Public Prosecutor Lim Yu Hui said the serial burglar targeted flats along the common corridor between 8am and 7pm, when residents were out at work. He would knock on the door, and if he received no response, he would use his screwdriver to force open the sliding window of the flat.
On Oct 2, 2009, he even co-opted an accomplice, See Boon Keng, 35, when he needed help to cart away a safe containing valuables such as Rolex watches, foreign currencies and gold coins from a flat in Ubi Avenue 1. See has already been dealt with. When Bay was arrested at Resorts World Sentosa's casino on Jan 25, he had with him $1,700 which he claimed were his winnings, 27 stolen commemorative coins and two pawnshop receipts. He led police to his van, where he had four gloves, two screwdrivers and a laptop.
The police yesterday advised home owners to secure doors and windows with good-quality grilles and closed shackle padlocks, even if their home is unattended for a short while.
Home owners should also avoid keeping large sums of money and expensive jewellery at home, and consider installing alarms or closed-circuit surveillance systems. Residents can also look out for their neighbours and keep one another informed if their homes are to be empty for extended periods.
Additional reporting by Tham Yuen-C
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