For 14 years, he was on the run from the law for his involvement in a fight that led to the death of a man.
But last year, Tan Keng Heng, who was in Malaysia, had a change of heart.
Ill, lonely and remorseful, he voluntarily surrendered himself to Malaysian authorities in May. Yesterday, Tan, 71, was sentenced to 28 months in jail for rioting.
His lawyer Sunil Sudheesan said in court: "He did stay overseas for 14 years, but it was not a pleasant stay out of Singapore... He ran because of fear and he came back because he's sorry."
Tan's sentencing comes after his accomplices Neo Eng Hwee and Eng Bak Siong were jailed in 2005 and 2014 respectively for causing grievous hurt to odd-job labourer Peng Teck Hoe, 32, in 2001.
The fight happened at a wet market in Toa Payoh Lorong 1 in 2001. It began with Neo thinking he had been cheated in a card game. Neo then called a friend, who asked Eng to help him confront the alleged cheats.
When Eng went to the market with Tan and three other men, Neo pointed out Mr Peng and the other alleged cheat.
A fight broke out and Tan had a physical altercation with one of the gamblers. Meanwhile, Eng thrust a knife two to three times into Mr Peng's abdomen. The 32-year-old was taken to hospital where he later died.
Eng and Neo fled to Malaysia immediately and Tan later in July. In 2005, Neo, a general worker, gave himself up and was jailed for three years and eight months for being part of a group that stabbed the victim.
In 2013, Eng, a former renovation contractor, was caught and extradited to Singapore after the Malaysian police arrested him for immigration offences. In 2014, he was jailed for seven years.
In May last year, Tan surrendered himself to the Malaysian authorities. He was deported on May 14, 2015, and charged the next day.
In his sentencing submissions yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Michael Quilindo called Tan's return an "extremely belated surrender".
He said the offence was premeditated, as Tan had gone to the market with the intention of confronting the cheating gamblers, the DPP said.
DPP Quilindo also listed Tan's antecedents, including a string of armed robbery and driving offences. Tan was also detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act.
Tan's counsel Mr Sudheesan, however, rebutted later in his submissions: "My client did go to the scene, but the intention was criminal intimidation, and that escalated."
While his client expects to be responsible for fleeing jurisdiction, the defence counsel said there should be sufficient weight given to the fact that Tan made the effort to voluntarily surrender to the police.
"What happened was that he contacted his friends who contacted me and I made arrangements (for him) to surrender himself to the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) in Malaysia, before he was taken custody in Singapore," he said.
While Tan did have his brushes with the law, the stage 3 cancer patient is now "truly remorseful for his actions", Mr Sudheesan said.
District Judge Liew Thiam Leng ordered his sentence to be backdated to May 15, 2015, when Tan was first remanded. For rioting, Tan could have been jailed for up to five years.
This article was first published on March 30, 2016.
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