SCDF ragging trial: Judge reserves verdict on commanders' role, asks why other men not charged

SCDF ragging trial: Judge reserves verdict on commanders' role, asks why other men not charged

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: A judge on Friday (Jun 12) reserved his verdict over two Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) commanders on trial for their involvement in a fatal ragging incident, after questioning the prosecution on why the other men involved have not been charged.

The verdict for rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 39, and deputy rota commander Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 42, was adjourned to Jul 10.

They are accused of causing grievous hurt to national serviceman Kok Yuen Chin, by not stopping their men from putting him into a 12m-deep well.

The 22-year-old man was pushed into the well at Tuas View Fire Station on May 13, 2018, during celebrations to mark his impending Operationally Ready Date (ORD).

He was pulled out of the water 36 minutes after being pushed in by Staff Sergeant Nur Fatwa Mahmood, and died in hospital from a lack of oxygen due to drowning.

Fatwa pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and four weeks' jail in October 2018, and testified during the trial of the two commanders, Chong and Nazhan.

READ: SCDF officer who pushed NSF Kok Yuen Chin into well describes incident he has guilt, nightmares over

The prosecution pushed for the court to find Lieutenant Chong and Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan guilty, saying they had more than 30 years' experience between them and that they were responsible for the training and safety of the men under their charge.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan said they "remained indifferent" despite being aware of the dangerous and potentially fatal incident that their officers were engaging in. 

Witnesses testified during the trial that Chong was at a window on the second floor of a building at the fire station when a group of men gathered around the well that night.

Some of them had carried CPL Kok out from a control room where they had celebrated his ORD.

Chong shouted "no filming" to the men from the window, and the men responded by raising their hands to show their phones, the court heard. 

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

Nazhan had walked alongside the group carrying CPL Kok to the well, before going to an office to settle some matters about five to 10 minutes after hanging out around the well, another witness testified.

The prosecution argued that the servicemen's actions that night were threefold, including taunting CPL Kok, carrying him to the pump well and egging him to enter it.

Mr Kumaresan said Fatwa's push "was but a physical manifestation of the servicemen's intent".

JUDGE QUESTIONS PROSECUTION

District Judge Ong Hian Sun questioned the prosecutor about his labelling of Chong and Nazhan as secondary offenders, while the group of servicemen were primary offenders.

"But they are not charged?" said Judge Ong, referring to the primary offenders. "You see, we are charging them, the secondary offenders, for intentionally aiding the primary offenders. But the primary offenders - as (the defence) have pointed out - only two individuals (have been) charged."

Mr Kumaresan said that "there's a good reason" for this, and pointed to prosecutorial discretion, which gives the prosecution the power to decide who to charge.

The judge asked if it could be that Fatwa is the primary offender and everyone else secondary offenders, but Mr Kumaresan said this is not the prosecution's case, as that would draw attention to his push.

He maintained that the people carrying out the criminal action were the servicemen.

When asked if the 10 servicemen had committed any criminal acts or offences, the prosecutor said they had committed criminal acts by making CPL Kok enter the water.

The judge asked the prosecutor what offences would have been committed, by posing him various scenarios - such as if a person carried CPL Kok to the well and did nothing else.

Mr Kumaresan said such a person would be an active participant and would still be a primary offender committing a rash act, and could face a rash act charge.

WHAT DOES KOLAM ENTAIL?

The judge also questioned the prosecutor on whether there has been any conclusive evidence on what the "kolam" activity entails. Kolam refers to the ritual of entering the well.

The prosecutor said witnesses have defined this as the act of people entering the water. 

"The witnesses and even the accused have agreed that they have not seen a single (kolam) act where a person has walked away," said Mr Kumaresan.

"These are celebratory acts that always result in one outcome ... it always ends with the guy getting fully drenched."  

Chong's lawyer took issue with this claim. Nazhan's lawyer Singa Retnam said there was no evidence that the four servicemen who initially carried CPL Kok had a common intention to take him and put him into the well.

READ: SCDF ragging trial: NSF Kok Yuen Chin told group he could not swim while at ledge of well he drowned in

"It is for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt if there was an intention to put him into the well, and Nazhan himself thought they were just teasing, he thought everything was over and walked away," he said. 

"Could he have known that this would progress into something fatal? Not a single kolam activity has resulted in something fatal, and (there is) nothing to prove that there was grave risk in any of the kolam activities described," said the lawyer.

He pointed to one incident where another serviceman had knocked his head in the water, which resulted only in detention and warnings for those involved.

The lawyer said there was no publicity after that incident to say kolam is specifically forbidden, with only anti-ragging posters put up.

"We are asking for justice to be done," said Mr Retnam. "The group of servicemen have not been identified. And now (the prosecution) says everyone present there were making him go into well. 

"They weren't making him go into the well. He sat there and Fatwa pushed him in."

All parties will return for the verdict next month.

The maximum penalty for causing grievous hurt by a rash act is four years' jail, a S$10,000 fine, or both.

The commanders are the last to be dealt with in this case. Fatwa has finished serving his sentence, while Staff Sergeant Adighazali Suhaimi was jailed for one month in December 2018 for deleting incriminating evidence.

First Warrant Officer Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh, who was found guilty of asking Fatwa to push CPL Kok into the well, was jailed for 13 months in November 2019.

Source: CNA/ll(mi)

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