SINGAPORE: The High Court has sentenced convicted kidnapper Lee Sze Yong to life in prison and three strokes of the cane for abducting an elderly woman in 2014 and holding her hostage for S$20 million.
In a letter to Justice Chan Seng Onn on Thursday (Dec 1), Lee, 44, pleaded to be sentenced to death instead. “I will never know freedom,” he wrote. “The endless mental torment of hopeless years ahead (will) hound me for the rest of my life.”
Lee, dubbed the "Sheng Siong kidnapper", abducted 81-year-old Ng Lye Poh on Jan 8, 2014, and held her hostage for 12 hours. He demanded S$20 million in ransom from her son, millionaire Lim Hock Chee, who owns supermarket chain Sheng Siong.
Lee released Mdm Ng after Mr Lim delivered S$2 million in cash, having negotiated the sum downwards under the guidance of investigators.
Lee was arrested shortly after releasing Mdm Ng, and in his car investigators found a goldmine of incriminating evidence. In an organiser, Lee had chronicled his kidnap-for-ransom plot from as early as 2010, making lists of potential targets and even what he would spend the ransom money on.
Potential targets included billionaire Peter Lim’s children and other high-profile, high-value individuals, whom Lee tailed to become familiar with their daily routines. In the end, he set his sights on Mr Lim’s elderly mother, who had a habit of walking alone to and from the market close to her home.
Lee approached her on Jan 8 and lured her into a rented car with a promise to take her to her son, whom he said had suffered a fall in the office and was injured.
At trial, Lee claimed he hatched the kidnap-for-ransom plot while deep in debt and “very stressed and depressed”. He readily admitted he kidnapped Mdm Ng, but maintained he never intended to harm her and always planned to return her to her family, ransom paid or not.
“THE SADNESS OF A LIFE GONE WRONG”
Prosecutors David Khoo and Zhuo Wenzhao urged the High Court to sentence Lee to life in prison and three strokes of the cane.
Lee’s lawyer Selva K Naidu, who took on the case pro bono, said: “Yes, Mr Lee was driven by greed. Yes, as a society, we should abhor kidnappers. But buried somewhere in the unforgivable actions of Mr Lee is the sadness of a life gone wrong.”
In a 43-page judgment, Justice Chan set out reasons for rejecting the defence’s case: That Lee should not be found guilty under the Kidnapping Act, because the offence “requires that the abductor intends to hold his victim until and unless he receives the ransom”. Mr Selva argued Lee had “all along intended to release Mdm Ng whether or not he received any ransom”.
Justice Chan rejected the “restrictive” reading of the law, saying “it appears the legislative intent is to cast a wide net to penalise the actions of abductors who place their victims and their relatives … in fear”.
“Such a person has already cast his lot by embarking on a criminal endeavour in the hope of monetary return,” Justice Chan wrote, adding the law cannot “allow those people who deliberately choose to abduct innocent victims and gamble on whether they receive the ransom demanded, within a self-selected window of time, to escape criminal responsibility under (the Kidnapping Act)”.
LEE’S DESPERATE LETTER
In court on Thursday, Mr Selva read out a letter penned by Lee asking to be sent to the gallows.
“I plead Your Honourable Justice to impose death penalty instead deprivation of liberty for the rest of my life,” Lee wrote. “I had ruined my life. By dying, I hope that I have repaid my debt and to be at peace.”
Wracked with guilt over no longer being able to take care of his elderly mother, Lee wrote: “I have to face squarely the fact that I had hurt the people closest to me and acknowledging the pain I had caused to others, especially my old aged mother. As her only dependent, I will hate and despise myself as a failure as long as I live.”
In response to Lee’s letter, Justice Chan urged him “not to despair to that extent”, citing the Prisons Act which states that after a prisoner serves 20 years of a life sentence, the minister may direct the commissioner to make a remission order for his release.
The prospect did not seem to encourage Lee, however, who remained hunched in the dock, his head on his knees.
Lee’s former lover and accomplice Heng Chen Boon served three years’ jail for his role in the abduction and confinement of Mdm Ng.