SCDF ragging trial: Commanders get jail for roles in fatal case where NSF died after drowning in well

SCDF ragging trial: Commanders get jail for roles in fatal case where NSF died after drowning in well

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 Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) rota commander and his deputy were sentenced to jail on Tuesday (Sep 15) for their roles in a fatal ragging incident that drowned a national serviceman in a pump well.

Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi were sentenced to 10 weeks' jail.

The latest development means that all the accused in the case have been sentenced, more than two years after Corporal Kok Yuen Chin died aged 22 after being pushed into the 12m-deep pump well at the fire station.

He died of drowning in May 2018 after spending more than half an hour in the water and after frenzied rescue attempts by the rota's men.

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

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, CPL Kok's father said the commanders should have stopped what happened.

"Whether they are guilty or not, I don't know," he said in Mandarin. "But they should have asked them not to play until it's so overboard. They didn't even stop them. One ran up and one stood by. They didn't even say anything."

Speaking in Mandarin, he said his son - who is a Malaysian and a Singapore permanent resident - was an "outsider" and was not familiar with what was going on.

"What else can I feel?" He said about the outcome. "(My son) is gone. He's in another world ... We have to pass the days, we have no choice."

THE CASE

Chong and Nazhan had been tried for abetting grievous hurt to CPL Kok, but the charges had failed to be proven at trial.

However, the judge found that there was enough evidence to convict them each of one count of committing a negligent act to endanger human life. Chong pleaded guilty to the new charge while Nazhan pleaded not guilty and was convicted.

READ: SCDF ragging trial: Commanders get charges lowered after judge finds prosecution did not prove case on original offences

District Judge Ong Hian Sun said both men had failed to prevent the group of servicemen from their rota from carrying out "kolam" or pump well activity on CPL Kok.

As the highest-ranking officers on duty, CPL Kok would have looked to the accused to ensure his safety, said the judge.

"On the facts, the accused were grossly negligent by allowing kolam activity to proceed even though they didn't know he couldn't swim," said Judge Ong.

Chong knew the men were engaging in kolam activity but shouted "no filming", giving the men a signal that they could go ahead.

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

Nazhan was physically near the men before the incident, but similarly did not put a stop to the acts, said the judge.

The defence had sought high fines for their clients, while the prosecutors had sought the maximum of three months' jail for both men, saying that the offence committed is the worst of its kind, leading to the death of CPL Kok.

Judge Ong said there is "significant public interest in deterring ragging activities within SCDF".

"Public confidence must not be eroded by a permissive stance taken by commanders towards the safety of servicemen under their charge," he said. 

"This is especially the case when the lives of these servicemen are entrusted to them during the course of national service. A strong stance must be taken to ensure that the safety of NSmen remains paramount."

Chong's lawyer Wee Pan Lee said his client was ready to serve sentence, but the prosecution applied for a stay of appeal as the prosecution is appealing the case.

Mr Wee said Chong wants to serve the sentence even if the prosecution wins in its appeal as he wants to get on with his life, and the judge allowed this.

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

The rest in the case have been dealt with. The man who pushed CPL Kok into the well, Nur Fatwa Mahmood, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year and four weeks' jail in October 2018.

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(hs)

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