SINGAPORE: A former gang member was on Wednesday (Aug 17) convicted of sexually assaulting three teenage boys at a playground slide.
A High Court judge found Mustapah Abdullah, 50, guilty of three counts of sexual assault. Mustapah had claimed trial to the charges and represented himself.
The identities of the victims, aged 16 to 17 during the offences, are protected by gag order. They lived in the same neighbourhood as Mustapah and got to know him in 2017.
The victims "clearly looked up to him, regarded him as a 'big brother' and respected his advice", said Justice See Kee Oon. They also knew of his past gang involvement.
The friendship soured in 2018, when the victims started avoiding Mustapah over a rumour that he had made one of their friends perform a sexual act on him.
This friend, identified as W2 in court documents, was purportedly sexually assaulted by Mustapah on two occasions in 2018 when he was 16.
Mustapah is also accused of sexually assaulting W1, another friend of the teens, on five occasions in 2017 when he was 15.
These allegations are the subject of seven charges against Mustapah that have been stood down during the trial.
Angered by the rumour, Mustapah arranged to meet the teens on the night of Oct 17, 2018 at a hut in their neighbourhood.
According to the prosecution, he pulled, slapped and tried to scratch one victim's eye out, and kicked another victim on his back. He then told each victim to meet him alone at the slide.
One by one, he asked each victim to perform a sexual act on him at the top of slide. All three complied.
Justice See found that Deputy Public Prosecutors Gail Wong, Tay Jia En and Gladys Lim had proven their case against Mustapah beyond reasonable doubt.
He found that each victim gave a "textured, coherent and internally consistent account" of events, whereas Mustapah, who represented himself, gave "shifting and unreliable evidence".
"LESSER OF TWO EVILS"
A key plank of Mustapah's defence was his claim that the victims were given a choice as to whether to perform the sexual acts on him, said Justice See.
He rejected this argument, noting that all three victims testified they only agreed to Mustapah's demands as they feared he would injure them or their families.
"It is crucial to appreciate the full context in which the victims had agreed to 'settle' the problem with the accused" by performing the sexual acts, said the judge.
"The accused was angry that the victims had purportedly spread rumours about him ... and were avoiding him. He wanted to know who had been responsible for the rumours.
"He confronted the victims and spared no effort to demonstrate his capacity to carry out his threats of violence," said Justice See.
Mustapah eventually presented each victim with an ultimatum of performing the sexual act, or walking away and being prepared for the consequences.
To the victims, the sexual act was "the lesser of two evils" and they only complied out of fear of further harm or harassment, said the judge.
"Plainly, the victims did not consent. They did not act voluntarily and did not freely agree to submit themselves."
The judge also found that apart from displays of physical violence, Mustapah capitalised on the victims' respect for him as an authority figure with a purportedly violent past.
This included deliberately referring to his past involvement in gang fights when confronting the teens.
"Unsurprisingly, the victims were intimidated and felt fearful that further harm would be inflicted upon them or their families if they were to choose not to 'settle' the matter with the accused," said the judge.
Justice See rejected Mustapah's assertion that the victims had conspired to "backstab" him and that the prosecution witnesses were out to malign him, calling this "pure speculation" and "baseless and vexatious".
He also gave full weight to Mustapah's self-incriminating statements made in interviews with police and an Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist.
The prosecution previously told the court it was seeking 26 years' imprisonment and 24 strokes of the cane, with additional jail time in lieu of caning. The offender cannot be caned as he is now 50.
Mustapah will return for sentencing in September. He can be jailed for up to 20 years, fined and caned for each charge of sexual assault by penetration.