SINGAPORE: The owner of well-known restaurant Zam Zam was found guilty on Friday (Mar 6), along with a business associate, of hiring a hitman to slash a man from a rival eatery.
The judge said the case was all about business rivalry, in a feud between the Zam Zam and Victory restaurants in North Bridge Road. He highlighted how the two establishments, both of which were founded in the early part of the twentieth century, have been feuding for almost 100 years.
The owner of Zam Zam, 49-year-old Zackeer Abbass Khan, conspired with several others to have Victory restaurant supervisor Liakath Ali Mohamed Ibrahim slashed and scarred.
He had instructed business associate and long-time friend Anwer Ambiya Kadir Maideen, 50, to procure an attack on the victim, offering money to get the job done.
Anwer then hired secret society member Joshua Navindran Surainthiran to slash the victim's face with a knife on Aug 26, 2015.
The victim was left with a permanent scar, and Joshua was sentenced to six-and-a-half years' jail and six strokes of the cane in 2016 for several charges in relation to the case.
District Judge Mathew Joseph found both Zackeer and Anwer guilty of conspiring to voluntarily cause grievous hurt after a long-running trial, saying the prosecution had proven its case.
Zackeer was convicted of an additional charge of criminal intimidation, while Anwer faces other charges of being in a secret society.
Judge Joseph said the case was all about business rivalry.
"Business rivalry is a common occurrence," he said. "It's part of everyday commerce and it is to be taken in its stride.
"In the case of Victory and Zam Zam restaurants, both are household names in Singapore," the judge said, adding that their rivalry has spanned almost 100 years.
"This is not surprising as murtabak is a very popular and tasty food item eaten at all times of the day and night in Singapore."
The judge said it was unfortunate that the feud had erupted over a failed business venture, and the two restaurants began engaging in the "persistent touting of patrons".
This resulted in more tensions between the management and staff at both restaurants.
The prosecution had said the enmity between Zackeer and the victim was deep-rooted and transcended the business rivalry between the two restaurants.
It dated back to 2005, when both men were business partners. The business failed and Zackeer blamed the victim for being sued and "cheated" of S$80,000.
When the victim joined the rival Victory restaurant, he created problems for Zackeer's new business, pulling customers away and reporting his staff to authorities.
Things came to a head on Aug 22, 2015, when the police went to both restaurants and advised them to refrain from touting.
Zackeer believed that his victim had set him up and ratted on Zam Zam employees to the police.
Incensed, he threatened the victim loudly in Tamil: "I see how you will work here and within one week I will either hit or kill you."
He also called out angrily to the senior Victory restaurant manager, saying: "I'll see how you carry on your business here."
Zackeer contacted Anwer, who told Joshua to slash the victim's face within a week, leaving a scar that would be a permanent reminder of "the terrible fate that awaited them should they incur Zackeer's wrath", the prosecution said.
In his verdict, Judge Joseph said he found several witnesses unreliable, retracting the statements they had given to the police pointing to the accused persons' guilt, and giving different versions of events.
In particular, he found Joshua, who was taken to court to testify in the case while serving his own sentence, "shifty with his answers".
His brother was also accused at one point, so he had an incentive to absolve him and the other accused by taking the blame on himself, said the judge.
"Zackeer being rich and influential - he could and would take care of Joshua after his release from prison," said the judge. "Joshua certainly would have been alive to these common human considerations."
He said he observed Joshua carefully while the latter was on the stand, and noted that he was making eye contact with and signalling to his brother.
The judge noted a text message exchanged between Zackeer and Anwer, that said: "As long as tomorrow got news the guy get something in the face."
There was also a reference that Joshua would "get more" as long as the victim got "something in the face".
Soon after this, Joshua slashed the victim.
He said Zackeer was not a credible witness, with inconsistent evidence, and said he was satisfied that Zackeer was the prime mover and mastermind behind the attack.
The judge rejected the defence's arguments that the accused had wanted to give only a verbal warning to the victim, and that Joshua had come up with the idea to slash him himself.
Zackeer was defended by Sarbrinder Singh, while Anwer was represented by Peter Keith Fernando.
Both parties will return to court for sentencing on Apr 13.
For voluntarily causing grievous hurt by a cutting instrument, the men face up to 15 years' jail, with the possibility of caning and a fine.