SINGAPORE: A former magazine editor who was at a birthday party at Mediacorp actor Terence Cao's home was fined S$3,000 on Tuesday (May 18) for gathering with 12 other people during the pandemic.
Lance Lim Chee Keong, 50, pleaded guilty to one charge of gathering with 12 people not from his household at Cao's condominium in Daisy Road in October last year.
The judge noted that Lim was a guest at the residence but went beyond by inviting more people to a gathering that was not necessary.
She added that the vast majority of people in Singapore have made tremendous efforts and sacrifices to contain the spread of COVID-19, and that it is crucial for individuals to comply with measures so that the country can overcome the pandemic.
At the time of the offence, Singapore was in Phase 2 of its reopening, with a limit of five visitors allowed for households.
The court heard that Cao, 53, organised a social gathering at his home on Oct 2, 2020 to celebrate his birthday, as well as the birthdays of Shane Pow, 30, and 32-year-old Xu Mingjie, or Jeffrey Xu.
Several of his local celebrity guests had turned up unannounced at Cao's home to surprise him, but Lim had knowingly invited more people even though the number of guests had exceeded the legal limit.
Initially, Cao invited Lim to his place along with artistes Pow, Xu, Benjamin Heng Tee Kok, 45, and Jeremy Chan Ming Yuew, 29.
Cao, Lim and Pow had dinner at the condo unit between 7pm and 8pm on Oct 2, 2020. Lim invited artistes Sonia Chew, 30, and Julie Tan Shaoyin, 29, and marketing managers Debbie Lu Shuyi, 34, and Eleanor Wang Chunwei over, expecting them to arrive later.
He asked Wang, 34, to bring a birthday cake to the gathering, and also knew that Wang had in turn invited artiste Dawn Yeoh Yishan, 34.
THE GUESTS ARRIVE
At about 8pm, part-time model and actress Valnice Yek Jia Hui arrived at the condo and Cao allowed the 22-year-old in. Pow had earlier invited her there without knowing that more guests were expected.
Before 9pm, 30-year-old sales manager Tan Jun Chuan arrived at the home and Cao let him in. He had gone there to surprise Cao, and did not know that more guests would arrive later.
Between 9pm and 10pm, Wang and Yeoh arrived at Cao's home. They did not know that there were going to be more than five guests there, and were unaware that more guests would arrive later. There were now six guests in the unit.
Between 10pm and 11pm, Lu arrived at Cao's home to surprise him. Julie and Heng joined the group shortly. The trio did not know there were more than five guests there or that more would be arriving later. There were now nine guests at Cao's home.
Between 11pm on Oct 2, 2020 and 12am on Oct 3, 2020, Chew, Xu and Chan turned up at the house and were let in. They did not know there were going to be more than five guests there, and their arrival meant there were 12 guests in total.
At about 11.30pm, all 13 participants of the gathering held a birthday cake-cutting ceremony and took group photos of everyone present.
Xu posted one of the photos on his Instagram Stories page. Several of the guests left by 1am, leaving six behind. Lu left the condo as well between 1am and 2am on Oct 3, 2020.
The remaining guests - Lim, Pow, Xu, Chew and Julie - left between 2am and 4am.
Throughout the gathering, the guests chatted, ate and drank without wearing masks. They knew it was against the law to gather in a group of more than five people.
HE WAS NONCHALANT: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew asked for a fine of at least S$3,000 to reflect the seriousness of his actions and "to deter likeminded offenders who place their personal interests over the public's health".
"Lance Lim was nonchalant towards the laws enacted to protect Singapore against the global COVID-19 pandemic," said Mr Yew. "His conduct belittles the efforts and sacrifices of the vast majority, who have, amongst many things, given up the pleasures of social interaction with family and friends for the public good to contain the spread of COVID-19."
He said the courts should "firmly denounce such behaviour and send a strong message that we need to continue to be vigilant and comply with measures to prevent another tidal wave of community infections".
Defence lawyers Josephus Tan and Cory Wong of Invictus Law asked instead for a fine of not more than S$2,500, saying that this was his first offence and an isolated one that was "wholly out-of-character" with "no deep-seated criminality".
They said Lim was "hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as he had lost his full-time job as a magazine editor back then".
He could not find any comparable employment for about a year and had to use his own savings to tide over. He has since secured work as a part-time editor to make ends meet after months of unemployment, they said.
"In a way, COVID-19 had indeed did Lance in twice over, the first being employment-wise and the second being offence-wise. He has learnt his lesson and he reiterates his genuine remorse," said the lawyers.
Lim and Cao were charged in court in March, while the other 11 guests were each given fines of S$300. The Building and Construction Authority had explained that they took into account the 11 guests' level of culpability in issuing them fines.
An advisory was also issued to the management of Cao's condominium to remind them to ensure compliance with safe management measures.
Cao is expected back in court on May 25 to plead guilty. He is defended by lawyer S S Dhillon, who is also representing Pow for an unrelated drink driving charge.