HE WAS an economics graduate with a bright future ahead of him.
But Low Ji Qing, now 46, has spent the better part of his life behind bars for stealing women's wallets.
His real reason for pilfering the wallets remained a secret for years.
But the truth emerged when he told a government psychiatrist in 1996 that he would get sexually aroused from the smell of the leather wallets.
The psychiatrist diagnosed him as suffering from fetishism, which are recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges and behaviours involving the use of a non-living object.
But shame kept Low from seeking treatment.
And he never managed to break free from the compulsion.
Last year, barely a month after he was released from prison after serving 10 years of preventive detention, he went on a stealing spree again.
Yesterday, Low pleaded guilty to four charges of stealing women's wallets.
Another five similar charges and one charge of fraudulently obtaining five ez-link cards will be taken into consideration when he is sentenced next month.
But this time, Low may get a reprieve. District Judge Soh Tze Bian asked Low's lawyer, Mr Josephus Tan, to explore the possibility of placing his client in a halfway house.
Mr Tan had asked the court to grant Low probation so that he could continue to seek treatment at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where he has been receiving treatment since his arrest last June.
Dr Joseph Ozawa, a court-appointed clinical psychologist, had said that Low should continue with his treatments, whether at IMH or elsewhere.
The court heard that Dr Ozawa, who convened a community court conference (CCC) on Low's case last September, also said that a special programme available at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) would be suitable for Low if he were put on probation.
But the prosecution objected to probation as Low had not only made away with the wallets, he had also used the cash and other items in them.
Severe fetishism urge
Severe fetishism urge
Moreover, he was unable to make restitution of about $6,200 to the victims.
Nonetheless, Judge Soh noted that Low had re-offended shortly after completing his preventive detention last year, and that he had "a severe fetishism urge".
Judge Soh told Mr Tan to seek Dr Ozawa's opinion at another CCC, saying: "We will see what Mr Ozawa can come up with... see who's prepared to accept him."
He adjourned sentencing to Feb 21.
If Low gets treatment, it could be the first step towards freeing himself from a compulsion that has plagued him for most of his life.
The court heard that his sexual preoccupation with women's wallets started when he was seven.
He began by smelling his sister's belongings such as her undergarments, handbags and wallets. Gradually, he preferred to smell only her wallet.
As he grew older, he would have recurrent sexual urges and fantasies involving her wallet.
He went on to arouse himself with the wallets of his friend's sisters.
And he continued doing this despite having a girlfriend for 11 years.
This compulsion drove Low, an economics graduate from University of Western Australia, into a life of crime, the court was told.
Low had held white-collar jobs ranging from executive to director-level positions before his first offence in 1986. The next year, he was jailed for the first time.
During his national service days, he would even visit a library at the National University of Singapore, where he would take female students' wallets, look at their photographs and fantasise about them.
He then started taking women's wallets in places like supermarkets and shopping malls.
He targeted attractive women who placed their wallets on top of supermarket trolleys.
Once he took the wallets, he would masturbate and leave them where people would see them and return them to the owners.
His latest spate of thefts took place between March and Mayl ast year, when he took several women's wallets on six occasions at retail outlets such as an NTUC FairPrice supermarket and at Tangs department store.
He re-offended while out on bail.
On Nov 11, he stole an unattended wallet at Carrefour in Plaza Singapura. An hour later, at Isetan Scotts in Orchard Road, he took another wallet left unattended in a pram.
When the owner discovered the wallet missing, she approached the store manager who directed a search in the store.
The wallet was found on a display shelf with its contents intact. Low had regretted stealing it and left it there.
He was detained by the store's security staff and handed to the police.
The court heard that Low did not realise he had a psychiatric condition till he was diagnosed in 1996. Even then, he defaulted on his follow-up sessions as he felt ashamed.
And despite having been in and out of jail four times, serving about 16 years in all, he never revealed the real reason behind the thefts, wrote IMH psychiatrist Dr Michael Yongin his psychiatric report last June.
This was because Low did not think that anyone would believe him or understand.
Family kept in the dark
Family kept in the dark
Even his family was kept in the dark. When he was nabbed for theft in 1999, they cut off all ties with him.
They found out about his psychiatric condition last year only after they saw Dr Yong's psychiatric report.
They decided to give him one last chance and came forward to support him.
He started working as a sales and marketing executive at his sister's travel agency and lived in his elder brother's home.
But it appears that even his family has given up on him after he again broke the law while out on bail last November.
His lawyer told the court yesterday that his family members were firm in their decision not to make restitution on his behalf.
None of them turned up in court.
For theft, Low can be jailed three years and fined on each charge.
By Amanda Yong & Ashley Chia
1) Mechanic exposes himself, molests women
IN APRIL 2006, a mechanic, 45, was sentenced to six years of corrective training for molesting two women and exposing himself to them.
His lawyer said that his client suffered from voyeurism, a mental disorder, and was also prone to exhibitionism, a compulsive urge to expose his genitals in public.
But a report from the Institute of Mental Health stated that voyeurism is not recognised as a mental illness.
2) Prof steals bras and panties
IN APRIL 2008, a university professor, 39, was placed on 12 months' probation for stealing bras and panties belonging to three Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students at an NTU hostel.
He was ordered to attend a special treatment programme for people with sexual disorders and to see a psychiatrist regularly.
The court was told that he had a psychiatric disorder that caused him to be sexually aroused by women's undergarments. He started taking women's undergarments when he was 14.
3) NUS grad brushes privates against woman
IN 2009, a National University of Singapore psychology graduate, 28, was jailed 15 months and given three strokes of the cane for brushing his private parts against a woman's thigh.
He was standing in a bus next to the seated woman. The police found a drop of semen on the woman's thigh. He claimed he suffered from spontaneous ejaculation. The judge said the medical condition was a secondary issue, and there was no reason for him to brush himself against the woman.
This article was first published in The New Paper.