SINGAPORE: During the COVID-19 "circuit breaker" period when social gatherings were prohibited, 16 people allegedly went to a flat in Sengkang owned by two friends for a gathering lasting several hours, making such noise that a neighbour called the police.
Ten of the guests were fined between S$2,500 and S$3,000 on Wednesday (Aug 5), with two guests who stayed the longest given the heftier fine. If they cannot pay the fine, they will have to serve either 10 days' jail or 12 days' jail.
They pleaded guilty to one charge each of meeting people not from their households for a social purpose, with a second charge of leaving their flats without reasonable excuse during the pandemic taken into consideration.
The 10 who were sentenced on Wednesday are: Felisa Chua Jia Xuan, 23, Poh Yang Ting, 21, Priscilia Tan Sze Hui, 32, Kho Zi Ting, 27, Peh Si Qin, 22, Chee Min Hui, 27, Low Wei Hao, 25, Jackson Tan Chia Ho, 30, Nicman Lim Wei Fong, 25, and Jasmin Tan Ee Lin, 30.
Another eight people involved in the case, including the flat owners, have their cases pending.
The court heard that Leong Chee Mun, 37, and Cassie Ong Shi Hong, 32, were engaged and lived in a flat at Block 295C Compassvale Crescent. Their guests lived in places including Tampines, Sengkang, Punggol, Hougang, MacPherson and Bukit Panjang.
On May 8, when the "circuit breaker" was in force, the flat owners were texting their friends in a WhatsApp chat group when someone suggested to have a gathering at their place.
The flat owners agreed, and more people came to know of the gathering. They began arriving at the Sengkang flat at different times, with the last reaching at 1.15am on May 9. Jasmin and Jackson were the earliest to arrive, having stayed at the flat since 6am on May 8 and having breakfast with the flat owners.
READ: Last of the accused in 18-person party in Sengkang held during circuit breaker charged, most to plead guilty
In total, 18 people were in the flat, coming into close contact with each other while engaging in various activities such as eating, drinking alcohol, playing games and watching Netflix, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Lee Wei Liang.
NEIGHBOUR CALLS POLICE
At about 2am on May 9, a neighbour called the police and said there were "a lot of youngsters" entering and leaving the flat, and that she was "very sure" they did not stay there as she had seen the house occupants before.
She added that she could hear the people laughing in the unit and suspected they were gambling.
"I have called multiple times but this has been going on almost every night," she told the police.
A police officer arrived at the flat at about 2.30am. He heard people laughing and talking inside the flat, and noticed that there were several pieces of footwear outside.
He rang the doorbell and heard hushing noises from inside the flat, but no one answered the door. After ringing the doorbell again and knocking on the door multiple times, Leong opened the door after about three minutes.
He said he was the owner of the flat and was asleep, lying to the officer that he and his fiancee were the only ones inside.
The officer confronted Leong about the noises he heard emanating from inside the flat, and Leong admitted that there was a gathering, with eight to 10 people inside.
The police subsequently found the 16 visitors and two flat owners in the flat.
BREACHES WERE DURING CIRCUIT BREAKER: PROSECUTOR
Prosecutor Lee Wei Liang asked for a fine of S$2,500 for most of the 10 accused who pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
He noted that deterrence was necessary, highlighting the "serious public health threat" posed by COVID-19, and noted that the breaches were during the circuit breaker.
The gathering also involved a large number of people, with 18 people inside the flat, and there was potential for COVID-19 to spread within the unit, amplifying the risk posed to the rest of the community, the court heard.
Most of the guests each spent between one to five hours in the unit, and the gathering did not have an agreed end time, stopping only when the police arrived.
This case "illustrates the point that social gatherings in private homes are difficult to detect and difficult to police", said Mr Lee.
It was also aggravating that they had met for "frivolous and completely unnecessary purposes" in a blatant breach of the rules, he said. The gathering was a noisy one, causing disturbance to at least one other flat owner, and the accused were aware that they were meeting as a group.
He said their pleas of guilt should be given little to no weight as they were caught red-handed by the police and had little choice but to plead guilty.
HIGHER FINES FOR GUESTS WHO STAYED THE LONGEST
He asked for higher fines of S$3,000 for Jackson and Jasmin as they had each spent about 20 hours at the flat.
Most of the 10 accused did not have previous convictions, except for Priscilia, who had previous convictions including theft and drug consumption, and Jasmin, who was previously convicted of offences under the Moneylenders Act and of lurking house trespass.
None of them were represented and most of them did not say anything in mitigation. Jasmin told the court through a Mandarin interpreter that she wanted an instalment plan to pay the fine, as she was a single mother with two kids and has financial difficulties.
Jackson said he also has three young children and asked for leniency and an instalment plan.
The judge granted some of the accused their requests for instalment plans, asking for an upfront payment of S$1,000 with subsequent monthly instalments of S$500.
Other than the 10, the other eight accused are: Flat owners Leong and Ong, Chua Jie Kun, 29, Mandy Tan Yi Xing, 26, Jasper Tan Zhi Hong, 25, Cavin Liow Jun Rong, 20, Moey Kai Yi, 18, and the sole foreigner Myanmar national Thant Thaw Kuang, 29.
Ong is represented by Cory Wong of Invictus Law, and he asked for an adjournment on Wednesday as he had just taken the case on.
The prosecutor successfully applied to adjourn the cases of Jie Kun, Mandy and Jasper, as they are facing unrelated investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department.
The cases for the other four are pending.
For breaking a COVID-19 regulation, the accused could have been jailed for up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.