Loan-shark acts still a concern

By Gerrard Lai

A STRONG signal needs to be sent to loan sharks that their blatant acts to spread unease in neighbourhoods will not be allowed, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.

This is because residents are still "very concerned" about loan-shark activities despite the successful dismantling of more syndicates and arrest of more harassers.

Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, was speaking at the annual Police Workplan Seminar, held at the Home Team Academy in Old Choa Chu Kang Road.

He said: "They target Housing Board units indiscriminately, without regard for the safety of those within."

Harassment tactics have become bolder over time, with property being set on fire and cars being vandalised. On May 25, a self-employed 35-year-old man was arrested for splashing paint remover on seven cars, as well as starting fires at the doors of several debtors.

The legislative framework for dealing with loan sharks was strengthened last year, with stiffer penalties imposed and police powers enhanced to freeze the assets of those detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.

Under the amended Moneylenders Act, first-time offenders found guilty of abetting loan-shark harassment can be jailed for up to five years, fined up to $50,000 and receive up to six strokes of the cane.

Deterring loan-shark activities was highlighted as one of three key areas that the police must focus on over the next year, said Mr Teo.

The other concerns are commercial crime, which increased by 13 per cent last year, as well as cybersecurity.

He said: "A common thread running through these three areas of concern is the fact that criminals are increasingly exploiting modern technologies and finding new modus operandi to carry out their crimes."

Mr Teo called for a "comprehensive plan" to ensure that the Government, businesses and individuals take appropriate steps to locate and address vulnerabilities to cybercrime.

Mr Teo cited examples such as transnational syndicates which use the Internet to direct activities across borders, making detection and apprehension much more difficult.

"The Internet can also be used to hide large amounts of money flowing across jurisdictions, allowing ill-gotten gains to be more easily accessed by wrongdoers," he said.

The Singapore Police Force (SPF) must correspondingly increase its investments in technology and build new capabilities, he said.

This includes having all police services leverage on technology, from front-line applications to back-end forensics. This will help deter and solve crimes, and aid in investigations and prosecution, he said.

Mr Teo added that the planned opening of the Interpol Global Complex here in 2013 will drive research into a new generation of global police services, which will in turn attract global investment in security research and development.

"This will provide the SPF with the opportunity to collaborate with a much broader and deeper pool of international security experts," he said, adding that officers, too, will need to upgrade their skills and broaden the "collective knowledge base".

Several new capabilities were exhibited yesterday at the seminar, such as the Mobile Automated Vehicle Screening System. It can be used to identify vehicles which are stolen or involved in criminal activities, and is expected to go on operational trial in the coming months.

The weapons and gear of a new anti-terrorist squad under the command of the SPF's Special Operations Command and its Gurkha Contingent were also on display.

The squad, called the Anti- Swarming Team, was set up after the SPF reviewed its anti- terror capabilities in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The squad will be outfitted with higher-powered weapons and tactical vehicles to defend against organised attacks by a large number of armed terrorists.

A prototype of a new police uniform for officers performing operational duties was also on display.

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