SCDF fatal ragging case: Prosecutors push for jail for rota commanders on lowered charges as defence ask for fines

SCDF fatal ragging case: Prosecutors push for jail for rota commanders on lowered charges as defence ask for fines

Nazhan and Kenneth Chong
First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi and Lieutenant Chong Chee Boon Kenneth, two of the five SCDF officers charged in court over the death of NSF Kok Yuen Chin. (Photos: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: Prosecutors on Tuesday (Aug 18) asked for jail for a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rota commander and his deputy, whose men engaged in a fatal ragging incident that drowned a national serviceman in a pump well. 

Defence lawyers for the two men - Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi - asked instead for high fines on the lowered charges that the men were convicted of.

The men were convicted of a charge each of committing a negligent act to endanger human life, after their original charges of abetting grievous hurt to 22-year-old NSF Kok Yuen Chin failed to be proven during the trial.

Chong had said last month that he wanted to plead guilty, while Nazhan pleaded not guilty. His lawyer filed submissions on this, but the judge maintained on Tuesday that there was enough evidence during the trial to convict him of the new charge.

The prosecution asked for at least three months' jail for the men, who were the highest-ranking officers in the rota at the time, having been with SCDF for more than a decade.

They "chose to turn a blind eye" despite being fully aware that Corporal Kok would be subjected to a prohibited "kolam" or pump well ritual, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan and Sheryl Yeo.

"CPL Kok died as a consequence of a senseless prank just three days shy of his Operationally Ready Date," said Mr Kumaresan.

On the night of May 13 two years ago, a group of servicemen gathered to celebrate the impending ORD for CPL Kok before some men carried him to a 12m-deep pump well.

Pump well tuas view fire station collage
Left: The pump well that Corporal (CPL) Kok Yuen Chin drowned in. Right: Tuas View Fire Station. (Photos: SCDF, Mediacorp)

CPL Kok, who could not swim, took off some articles of clothing while the men cheered him on and sat at the edge of the well.

Chong and Nazhan were not at the well when co-accused Staff Sergeant Nur Fatwa Mahmood suddenly pushed him in, on the suggestion by another accomplice, First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh.

READ: SCDF ragging trial: Commander knew his men would make NSF Kok Yuen Chin enter well, court hears

Chong had waved to the men from another floor, reminding them not to do any filming, while Nazhan had left the group to settle matters in an office after walking with them to the well.

CPL Kok was pulled out of the water 36 minutes after being pushed in and died in hospital from a lack of oxygen due to drowning.

Mr Kumaresan said the accused were in a position of authority over CPL Kok and the other servicemen, who would have stopped the activity had they asked them to do so.

"This is of heightened significance here as CPL Kok was an NSF in a regimented hierarchical system. He would understandably have felt pressurised with superiors egging him on to enter the pump well," he said.

The case, Mr Kumaresan added, had created public disquiet and unease in relation to NS, with parents entrusting their sons' lives to senior officers such as the accused. The sentence must be "deterrent" and cannot be a fine, he said.

READ: 'Faster go down': SCDF officer who found NSF Kok Yuen Chin's body at bottom of well recalls rescue attempt

DEFENCE LAWYERS ASK FOR FINES

Chong's lawyer Wee Pan Lee asked for a high fine, or two to three weeks' jail if the court did not want to impose a fine.

The maximum sentence for the offence is three months' jail, a fine of up to S$1,500, or both.

He said his client would have pleaded guilty had the original charge been the lowered one, and said Chong has no previous convictions.

He served in the SCDF from 2004 to 2018, when he was suspended over this case, and had "a good track record" with many leadership appointments, said Mr Wee.

He is remorseful for what happened and acknowledges the negligence on his part, said the lawyer, adding that this negligence did not amount to gross negligence.

"The accused has yet to be dealt with by the SCDF because following this conviction, the SCDF will commence disciplinary proceedings against him, and his troubles are not over," he said.

Nazhan's lawyer Singa Retnam asked for a high fine, saying his client is married with three daughters and is the eldest of three children, with his parents relying on him and his siblings for support.

Nazhan held several appointments and won awards during his time with the SCDF, and fully cooperated with the authorities on this case, said Mr Retnam. He has also expressed "deep regret and sincere remorse for being implicated in the above events".

The lawyer cited Nazhan's statements, where he said he would have stayed with the men had he known they were going to push CPL Kok in.

The judge said he would take some time to consider and adjourned sentencing to Sep 15.

Nazhan and Chong are the last to be dealt with in this case, which was regularly attended by CPL Kok's father until COVID-19 barred travel from Malaysia.

Fatwa pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and four weeks' jail in October 2018, while Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, who had asked Fatwa to push CPL Kok into the well, was jailed for 13 months in November 2019.

Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi was jailed for one month in December 2018 for deleting incriminating evidence.

Source: CNA/ll

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