SINGAPORE: A military court on Thursday (Aug 22) dismissed an appeal to extend the detention of a former Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular, after he kept and concealed 50 blank rounds following an exercise in 2017.
After taking the blank rounds from fellow servicemen during the exercise in June that year, Master Sergeant Chia Shu Sheng had kept the rounds in a metal cabinet in his office at Keat Hong Camp despite knowing they were supposed to be returned to SAF.
In November that same year, Chia was informed that military policemen were going to raid his camp. He then concealed the rounds in a false ceiling so they “could not detect it”, the court previously heard.
Military policemen eventually discovered the rounds in another raid in February 2018.
On Dec 27 last year, Chia admitted to two charges of misappropriating SAF property and a General Court Martial sentenced him to two weeks of detention.
Military prosecutors on Thursday appealed against the sentence and asked for four months’ detention instead, arguing that Chia, now 35, was a relatively high-ranking serviceman who was sergeant major of his company, and that he had taken “deliberate and active” steps to conceal the rounds.
However, a five-member Military Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.
In reading out the judgment, High Court judge Choo Han Teck, who presided over the panel, said: “Any variation to the sentence upwards now will have a greater effect on morale than it would on discipline.”
Chia, an armour infantry leader from the 40th Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment, completed his detention sentence in January. He was discharged from the SAF after the appeal.
CHIA WANTED TO PROTECT HIS MEN
After the military exercise on Jun 15, 2017, a declaration parade was conducted in which soldiers were instructed to thoroughly search their belongings and vehicles to ensure they did not have any ammunition in their possession.
Four days later, Third Sergeant (3SG) Choo Wei Xiong was performing maintenance work on an armoured vehicle when he discovered a storage box containing 49 unexpended metal blank rounds in the vehicle.
Realising that he had failed to check the contents of the storage box for ammunition during the declaration parade, 3SG Choo surrendered the rounds to Chia. Court documents did not say how the two were related.
After reprimanding 3SG Choo for not thoroughly searching the vehicle during the parade, Chia said he would “settle the matter” and kept the storage box in his office, the court had heard.
Sometime later that month, Chia was approached by an unnamed soldier who informed him that he had an expended plastic blank round. Chia took the round and kept it in the storage box together with the other rounds.
Chia’s previous lawyer had said that Chia decided to retain the rounds to protect his men from being punished for failing to declare them. Chia also wanted to “prevent the inappropriate disposal of the expended blank round by the soldier who found it”.
The lawyer said that Chia intended to hold on to the 49 unexpended blank rounds, which could only be used on a general purpose machine gun (GPMG) until those rounds could be disposed of during the next GPMG training.
The lawyer added that Chia also intended to properly dispose the expended blank round.
SENTENCE DETERRENT ENOUGH?
But on Thursday, military prosecutor Hee Mee Lin argued that Chia’s attempt to “shield” his men from punishment “gravely undermined” military discipline among rank-and-file servicemen.
Ms Hee argued that keeping the 49 unexpended rounds unsecured in his office created a “significant risk” of them getting discovered by unauthorised individuals.
She also dismissed the claim that Chia did not want the expended round to be improperly disposed as an “afterthought”.
Ms Hee said Chia’s actions had “undermined public confidence” in SAF’s ammunition control measures and called his two-week sentence “manifestly inadequate”. It had failed to accord a “strong need” for deterrence, she added.
Chia’s lawyer Suresh Divyanathan pointed out that Chia’s case is less severe than precedent cases which involved live rounds, deliberate theft of rounds or taking rounds out of SAF camps as souvenirs – all “big distinguishing factors”.
In three precedent cases that involved taking misappropriated blank rounds home as souvenirs, the offenders were given detention ranging from four to six weeks.
Furthermore, Mr Divyanathan said Chia will suffer “extreme” embarrassment from being discharged from the SAF because of the offence, and will have to “start life afresh” with no skills in the private sector.
“There is no bigger deterrent sentence to any regular than being discharged from the Army,” he said. “So, what further deterrent sentence do we need?”
CNA has reached out to the Ministry of Defence for comment.