SAF regular kept 400 blanks in his foot locker

SAF regular kept 400 blanks in his foot locker
PHOTO: Reuters

A regular serviceman was issued blank ammunition to be distributed to his men for an outfield exercise last year, but realised after the training that he still had 400 unused rounds in his backpack.

Instead of informing his superior officers right away, second sergeant M Shanmugavel left the rounds inside his foot locker until they were found 11 days later during a random inspection.

In May, the 22-year-old soldier was fined $5,000 after he pleaded guilty in a court martial to dishonest misappropriation of Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) property.

Yesterday, military prosecutors appealed against the fine and argued that detention should be imposed, pointing out that the case involved the largest amount of misappropriated ammunition to date.

But a five-man Military Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal.

High Court judge Choo Han Teck, who presided over the panel, said written reasons will be issued at a later date.

During the exercise in July last year, Shanmugavel was among the commanders who used a backpack 11/2 times bigger than SAF's standard issue field pack, in order to lighten the load for their soldiers.

His platoon sergeant issued him plastic blank rounds and smoke grenades to be distributed to his men and to be used during the training.

After the exercise, the platoon commander conducted the declaration parade to check for ammunition. Shanmugavel was checked but he did not have his backpack near him at the time.

Back in camp that night, he was clearing the bag when he realised there were still blanks inside.

As his superior officers had already booked out for the weekend and he was late for a family matter, he placed the rounds in his foot locker.

Shanmugavel's lawyer, Laurence Goh, said that his client left camp intending to tell his superior about the rounds when he booked back to camp next week but eventually failed to do so.

But military prosecutor Hee Mee Lin argued that detention is the sentencing norm for the serious offence of misappropriation of ammunition - whether live or blank - unless there are exceptional grounds.

She argued that the military court was wrong to conclude that there were exceptional grounds in this case and the court was also wrong to accept that he had intended to return the rounds.

Shanmugavel "made a conscious and deliberate decision to retain the rounds", she argued.

Fired blanks can result in burns or soft tissue injury, and the total amount of gunpowder involved was "sizeable", said Ms Hee. If the rounds find their way "into the public domain", it could cause public alarm and undermine public confidence in SAF's ammunition control systems.

Mr Goh said that in hindsight, his client, whose father and brother are also regular soldiers, ought to have told the duty officer. He noted that Shanmugavel's superiors, peers and subordinates have submitted testimonials to vouch for his character.

He argued that this was different from past cases of soldiers hiding misappropriated rounds in water bottles and shoes when booking out of camp.

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