SINGAPORE: The case of a man who was granted approval from a judge to leave the country after being accused of illicitly filming women took on another twist on Tuesday (Jan 14), as the prosecution surfaced new evidence to keep him in Singapore and to lift the gag order on his identity.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Foo Shi Hao and Tan Zhi Hao argued that the 22-year-old, who is an undergraduate at a top British university, should not be allowed to leave Singapore for school as he is a flight risk and told a friend in newly uncovered text messages that he intends to abscond.
They also urged the court to lift the gag order on the identity of the accused, saying there was "public interest" to do so and that 10 of the 12 identified victims wanted the accused's identity published.
After hearing arguments from both the prosecution and the undergrad's defence lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan for one-and-a-half hours, District Judge Adam Nakhoda said he needed to consider the fresh documents and had to adjourn his decision to Thursday afternoon, even though he was "loath to delay this matter".
READ: Judge grants bid by undergrad facing toilet filming charges to leave Singapore for top British university
The accused and the university cannot be named due to the gag orders still in place that protect the identities of the victims.
There were previously 11 women identified as victims in the charges, but a 12th one has stepped forward, giving the prosecutors a new argument, which they put before the judge on Tuesday.
The judge had granted the accused, who faces 20 charges in all and is accused of filming the women's private parts and faces over three years, his application to leave Singapore in order to attend his second school term overseas.
Addressing the first application for the court to reconsider its decision permitting the accused to leave the country, the prosecutors tendered text messages between the accused and his friends.
NEW TEXTS REVEAL ACCUSED'S PLAN TO ABSCOND: PROSECUTION
In his messages, he talked about a "master plan" to abscond by seeking asylum, said Mr Foo, and to "avoid certain destruction if he stays in Singapore".
In one text message to a friend read out in court, the accused said: "I trust you enough to tell you this. I honestly might not come back."
In another message, he wrote: "I could stay here, but that would be certain - at least metaphorical - death."
Mr Foo said the accused was afraid of facing justice and was "a man with a plan to evade justice".
When asked by the friend in the text messages whether he thinks he will get asylum, the accused replied: "Well, that's in the master plan."
He elaborated on the pros and cons of his master plan, weighing the "certain destruction" of staying in Singapore against the uncertainty of leaving the country and gaining asylum if he absconds.
He wrote: "Honestly, after the first mistake, there is little incentive in this world not to continue to try to lie or run."
While he had not absconded when granted his application to leave the country last year, he then faced only two charges with probation as a probable sentence, but now faces 20 and is likely to be jailed.
There are also now videos found on his own devices including ones that depict him in them, said the prosecution.
"The risk of him absconding is too heavy for (the victims) to bear," said Mr Foo. "We urge your honour to consider the potential consequences."
The friend he had confided in after he was charged in October last year has come to find out she is herself a victim. It is not known when she stepped forward, but she is the 12th victim to be identified.
She wrote an affidavit in support of the prosecution, saying she felt betrayed and could not focus on her studies and examinations.
She also wrote that she felt her purity had been taken away by the accused and wanted the matter to be concluded as soon as possible.
PUBLIC INTEREST OUTWEIGHS RISK IN LIFTING GAG ORDER: PROSECUTOR
On the second application of lifting the gag order for the accused, Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhi Hao made two points: That it is in the public's interest that the accused's identity be published and that there is no compelling reason for the gag order.
He emphasised that the key purpose of a gag order is to protect the welfare of the victim and extends only to an accused person "in certain very narrow circumstances", when revealing his identity would likely lead to the identification of the victim.
Elaborating, Mr Tan said the prosecution was making the application at the request of 10 of the 12 known victims, even though they had not made one in the initial stages of court proceedings as investigations had not been completed.
"I stress that of the 12 victims identified, 10 of them seek to have the accused's identity published," said Mr Tan. "These are 10 consenting adults who are fully aware of the possibility that their identities would be exposed. They feel that the accused should not be able to hide behind a gag order."
Of the two remaining victims, one has "expressed some reservations", while the other is a minor at 16 and has not been consulted at the request of her family.
"Our view is that while we accept that publication of the accused's name (means) the pool of potential victims may be narrowed, it remains sufficiently difficult to specifically identify a victim," said Mr Tan.
He said the prosecution was aware of the potential risk of exposing a victim's identity, but said that "public interest in this case far outweighs the risk to these potential victims".
"So it's trite that the foundations of criminal justice are transparency and openness," he said. "These aims can't be met if the accused hides behind a gag order."
Mr Tan added that any such risk can be managed by how information is disclosed to the media.
ACCUSED'S TEXTS WERE AN OUTBURST, HE WAS SUICIDAL: DEFENCE
Addressing the point on whether his client is a flight risk, defence lawyer Kalidass Murugaiyan told the court that the text messages must be "viewed in its entirety".
He said his client was "unloading his emotions" on the friend - who learned later she could be a victim of his - as he sent the messages to her the night after being charged, which he described as "a harrowing experience".
He had come across newspaper articles that mentioned details such as specific term commencement that could result in his identity being revealed and was very upset, said Mr Kalidass.
"Even among his friends, people started to point at him as the potential offender," he said.
Mr Kalidass enclosed a medical report showing that his client suffers from adjustment disorder and depressed mood, and has been seeing a doctor for this since 2016.
He described the text exchange as an "outburst", and said his client was alluding instead to killing himself when he referred to dying and not having his life metaphorically over after his sentence.
Mr Kalidass cited messages to another friend, the day after the accused was charged, when the accused said he realised absconding would not be the right thing to do.
The accused had written: "“I need to die. Abatement by death closes this. Doesn't matter if I'm innocent or guilty or whatever. Damage is dealt.”
He told this friend he was going to end his life and was contacted by Samaritans of Singapore.
"Ultimately, your honour ... words may say one, actions speak louder. His actions are of one who has come back," said Mr Kalidass, referring to his client returning to court for hearings this year after being granted his first application to leave the country last year.
He also asked the prosecution why they had not made the application to lift the gag order on the accused sooner, saying "we do not know" if victims understand the full extent of what it means to have the gag order lifted.
He stressed that the victims came from a "closed circuit of people who are intimately known to each other", adding that one of the victims has expressed her concerns.
"I think the prosecution must explain why on Jan 3 (during a previous hearing) they did not ask for the gag order to be removed at that point in time," said Mr Kalidass. "I think it's important they explain to court what happened from Jan 3 to Jan 14."
The prosecution replied that the question was "entirely irrelevant" as it had taken them time to contact and approach all the known victims and that the identification of the accused would not automatically mean the identification of the victims.
WE CAN IDENTIFY HIM, MANAGE DETAILS OF VICTIMS: PROSECUTORS
Responding to the defence's argument that revealing the accused's identity would reveal details to the media that would in turn lead to the victims' identification, Mr Tan said: "What we say is we reveal the identity of the accused and we gag details of the relationship, which falls squarely within the powers given to this court."
"Taking into account that there is public interest, what we say is the balance is best achieved through the disclosure of the accused's identity and careful management of what the media is allowed to publish in respect of this matter," he added.
His colleague Mr Foo took aim at the defence's arguments, saying that there was a conspicuous absence of any attempt to explain the use of the term asylum in the accused's text messages.
"If all he intended was to kill himself, there was no need to mention asylum, no need to weigh the pros and cons of leaving or staying," he said.
As for whether the death he wrote about was metaphorical or not, the accused's friend had prompted him "death for your future", to which the accused replied: "Yeah, pretty much."
Mr Foo stressed that "death" here referred to the accused's future and not a literal death.
Judge Nakhoda adjourned his decision to Thursday afternoon, saying that while he had looked over some documents over lunch, he only received some supplementary documents later and did not have a chance to look at them in detail.
If found guilty, the accused faces up to a year's jail, a fine or both per charge of insulting a woman's modesty.