SINGAPORE: A man who was suspended from driving for the Grab platform turned to unregulated carpooling chat groups on Telegram for jobs, preying on women and driving them to secluded areas to molest them.
Muhammad Hafiz Maksah, 27, was given five years and 10 months' jail and six strokes of the cane on Wednesday (Dec 23) for his crimes.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of outraging the modesty of his passengers, with another two charges taken into consideration.
The court heard that Hafiz was suspended in August 2019 from the Grab platform. He started taking up driving jobs for a fee on various Telegram chat groups.
In October last year, a student named as JC in court documents posted a request in chat group Ride Kakis (NTU) seeking a ride to a church.
Hafiz replied with the username @Rocket, accepting the request, and later picked her up. She fell asleep during the journey and woke up to realise that Hafiz had made a detour and was going to a multi-storey car park.
When questioned, Hafiz said that he needed to pick something up. JC sent messages to her friends saying that she would be late for church before telling Hafiz that she was running late and needed to reach her destination.
Hafiz assured her that the errand would not take long and parked in a corner of the car park.
Seeing that there was barely any gap between the door and the wall and that no other cars were parked on that floor, JC grew anxious and sent multiple messages to a friend, saying: "OMG SAVE ME" and "IDK WHAT THIS HITCH IS DOING".
JC took out a S$10 note to pay for the ride, wanting to leave, but Hafiz claimed he had no change and asked her to wait for a friend of his.
He began molesting her. JC later managed to squeeze out of the car and run away. She made a police report the next day, telling the police that she is now afraid to sit in the front passenger seat in taxis and has not taken Grab or ride-sharing hires alone in a very long time.
DRIVER MADE SECOND VICTIM PLAY GAME WITH FORFEITS
The second victim, named as MT in court documents, was also a student and had engaged Hafiz's driving services on Telegram chat group SG Hitch.
After the first ride went off with no issue in early October 2019, MT continued to hire Hafiz's services on several occasions, paying him S$10 per trip.
In the early hours of Oct 12, 2019, MT boarded Hafiz's car, and did not object when he said he had to return his friend's keys before taking her home.
He drove them to a multi-storey car park in Jurong West before parking the vehicle on the second-highest floor and pretending to wait for his friend.
After waiting for about an hour, Hafiz suggested that they play a card game, with the loser having to do five forfeits.
MT's first two forfeits were to send messages to people and to sing a song. When she refused to do any more forfeits, Hafiz grabbed her arm and demanded that she go to the backseat, before taking her phone away and telling her that the third forfeit was to kiss him on the lips.
MT refused and tried to leave. She was anxious and unfamiliar with the area and grew distressed, finding a piece of glass that she used to cut her wrist to convince Hafiz to let her go.
She also tried to climb over the ledge of the car park to escape, but Hafiz pulled her back to the car, insisting that she complete her forfeits.
He locked the car doors, alarming MT, who began inflicting harm on herself by pinching herself, burning her hand with a lighter and banging her head against the window.
Hafiz pinned MT down and when MT cried for him to get off, he said: "I just want to have sex with you."
Eventually, Hafiz asked MT to lick his toes to clear the forfeits. Because she wanted to leave, MT sucked each of his big toes for a minute.
He later drove her home, three hours after he picked her up. MT made a police report and said she is now afraid to take rides alone and is more wary of people.
THE SEMBAWANG INCIDENT
The third victim in the proceeded charges was also a student. Identified as SS in court documents, the student posted a message on Telegram chat group SG Hitch - Premium in March this year, looking to hire a ride home.
Hafiz took up the job, but when SS got into his van, she realised that he was driving towards Sembawang instead of her home.
When she asked him about it, Hafiz said that he was picking up another passenger.
He drove them to Jalan Selimang in Sembawang near a forested area at about 1.35am.
SS realised they were at a deserted area and texted her friends, sharing her live location and saying she was "legit panicking" and scared.
After smoking, Hafiz drove to a nearby junction and turned off the engine before continuing his pretext of waiting for another passenger.
He later molested SS as she was switching seats, placing his hands on her buttocks. He refused to take SS to the main road so she could get a Grab ride home, saying he was "lazy" and "tired".
A short while later, two auxiliary police vehicles drove past, causing Hafiz to panic. He then drove SS out to the main road and dropped her off.
SS made a police report later that day and said she was afraid that Hafiz would turn up at her address and is fearful of taking cabs alone.
A CLEAR DANGER TO THE PUBLIC: PROSECUTOR
The prosecution asked for 5 years and 10 months' jail and six strokes of the cane, calling Hafiz "a serial offender" and "a clear danger to the public".
"It is in the public interest that the accused be dealt with in a harsh manner," said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran.
Referring to MT's case, he said this was an "elaborate plot" with Hafiz deceiving her and using a card game to pressure her into performing sexual acts, including the "extremely degrading act of sucking his toes".
He added that Hafiz used an unregulated private-hire car service on Telegram to scour for victims. Other than the three victims, he also molested a fourth victim - which made up one of the charges taken into consideration.
"There is a stark difference between the security and accountability provided by a licensed private-hire car service, as opposed to an unregulated private-hire car service," he said.
"For example, Grab conducts vigorous driver background checks, requires all drivers to authenticate and verify their identity at least once a day, and provides functions on their app for passengers to share their locations, trip details and notify their contacts in case of an emergency."
He said the present case "clearly demonstrates that unregulated private-hire car platforms can be abused by drivers with nefarious intentions because of the sheer lack of accountability".