Online vice ring: Ex-bank exec's appeal thrown out

Online vice ring: Ex-bank exec's appeal thrown out

SINGAPORE - The Swiss bank executive jailed for having paid sex with an underage prostitute had his appeal against conviction dismissed by the High Court on Friday.

Former UBS executive director Juerg Buergin was found guilty in April of two charges of paying a 17-year-old for sex.

On Friday the 41-year-old's lawyer, Mr Selva K. Naidu, argued that his client did not have a guilty mind at the time of the offences, which took place in hotels in September 2010 and January 2011.

But Justice Choo Han Teck threw out the appeal, saying Buergin could not avail himself of the defence of having made a reasonable mistake as to the minor's age because he was over 21.

It was the first time since the online vice ring case surfaced that the issue of mens rea - or "guilty mind" - was being canvassed as to whether it was an essential element of the offence.

Buergin's defence in the original trial was that he had been a victim of deceit by a pimp over the girl's true age and that he did not know she was under 18.

But District Judge Eddy Tham found that Buergin clearly did not take any reasonable steps to avoid falling afoul of the law.

He was reckless in not verifying the minor's age and was quite content to rely on the representation of the pimp that she was 18.

Buergin appealed only against his conviction and not his four months and three weeks' jail sentence.

Responding to the appeal in their written submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutors Isaac Tan and Toh Puay San said those who chose to pursue paid sexual gratification must expect to take whatever measures necessary to prevent such an offence.

They said: "This is not an offence for which nothing can be done by potential offenders to prevent the transgression. They can choose to walk away if there is any doubt as to the true age of the person rendering such sexual services."

Making the offence one of absolute liability, they argued, promotes the objective of the law by encouraging greater vigilance against such a "repugnant" act.

They also said Buergin's suggestion that the pimp was the sole exploiter of the minor and he was an innocent party was untenable - particularly as he had made no effort to verify her age.

A total of 51 men were charged last year with having paid sex with the same underage girl. Buergin, a father of two, was the first to claim trial.

So far, 19 others have been convicted and sentenced to between eight and 16 weeks' jail. Two have appealed against their sentences and two other trials are ongoing in the lower courts.

Buergin is due to be released next month.

elena@sph.com.sg


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