Man pleads guilty a day before turning 21, broke COVID-19 law to carry out loan shark harassment
SINGAPORE: A young man who was urged by a judge to quickly decide whether he wanted to plead guilty or not before he turned 21 admitted to various offences in court on Tuesday (Jun 2), a day shy of his birthday.
Chua Jun Yong, 20, pleaded guilty to five charges including three under the Moneylenders Act, one under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and two traffic-related offences.
Another three charges will be taken into consideration for sentencing.
He was involved in three cases of loan shark harassment, including one on Apr 9 during the "circuit breaker" period when leaving the house for non-essential activities was not allowed.
This incident drew the COVID-19 charge, for leaving his Bedok flat without reasonable excuse to harass a man in Holland Close.
The court heard that Chua is completing his National Service, and got to know an unlicensed moneylender known as Jasper in March 2020.
He took a loan of S$800 from Jasper, but was unable to repay the instalment sums that followed. Jasper then offered him work to harass other debtors on his behalf, with a sum of S$150 deducted from his outstanding loan for each apartment unit he harassed.
Each time Chua did this, he was to take a photo of the loan shark harassment and send it to Jasper.
He agreed to carry out the harassment at eight units to settle his outstanding loan and interest of S$1,200.
He then rented a car to drive to the locations, even though he did not have the required driving licence.
Chua drove to the first flat at 1am on Apr 6, where he used a bicycle lock on the gate and wrote "O$P$" along with the debtor's details on the wall at the lift landing.
After this, he drove to the home of a 52-year-old woman whose stepson owed money to loan sharks.
He similarly locked the gate with a bicycle lock, before writing on the wall with an indelible marker and taking a photo of the scene for Jasper before leaving.
He did not have a valid Class 3 driving licence while behind the wheel, and there was no valid insurance policy either, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee.
Three days later, Chua left his flat after Jasper instructed him to harass another apartment unit. He drove the rented car to the location and locked the unit with a bicycle lock before scribbling a demand for repayment on the wall.
The prosecution asked for a reformative training suitability report. The court heard that Chua had previously been given reformative training.
A probation suitability report was not called for.
When Chua was charged, the judge had urged him to expedite his case before he turned 21 on Jun 3.
Offenders under 21 are considered young offenders and can be given sentences such as probation or reformative training.
HE FELT GUILTY, REMOVED LOCK ON THIRD OCCASION: DEFENCE
Lawyer Ng Shi Yang from the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme Fellowship urged the court to have Chua assessed to see if he is suitable for reformative training, which he is eligible for as he is below 21 years old.
He said that Chua felt pressured by the loan shark, and was fearful of his threats to harm him and his family.
Mr Ng said Chua supported himself financially but experienced a slump in his earnings as a food deliveryman in March. So he borrowed money from a loan shark, without expecting the latter to "turn on him" despite gradual repayments.
He felt guilty after the two harassment cases on Apr 6, and had never committed such acts before, said the lawyer.
"He realised that chaining up units was morally wrong because he might be endangering the lives of the inhabitants in the house," said Mr Ng. "Particularly, he was concerned there might be old people living in those houses."
He said Chua considered returning to remove the locks but was afraid of being arrested.
On the second occasion on Apr 9, he removed the lock from the unit after taking the photo for Jasper, said Mr Ng.
He added that Chua had completed his driving theory test and all road practice sessions successfully, but did not have the money to sign up for the practical test.
"This episode has also had a sobering and maturing effect on Jun Yong," said the lawyer, adding that this was "owed in no small part to the media exposure".
"Jun Yong is deeply embarrassed by the national attention on his actions," he said.
Chua will return to court for sentencing on Jun 9.
The penalties for loan shark harassment with property damage are a maximum five years' jail, a fine of between S$5,000 and S$50,000, and between three and six strokes of the cane.
On top of this, Chua faces up to six months' jail, a fine of up to S$10,000, or both for leaving his house without reasonable excuse during the circuit breaker.
For driving without the required licence, he can be jailed for up three years, fined up to S$10,000, or both. He can also be banned from driving.