Two men were yesterday sentenced to jail terms and caning for a "despicable" conspiracy to extort money from victims.
The scheme that Easudas Jason, 32, and Saravanan Uthasverian, 27, were part of entailed posing as a woman and posting a fake online advertisement for social escort services.
When victims responded, Easudas or other unidentified members of the conspiracy would pretend to be the girl's father and a police officer. They would threaten to start police investigations and go to the media.
Fearing embarrassment, the victims would transfer money to a bank account provided by Easudas. Saravanan was paid to withdraw money from the accounts.
Yesterday, after a nine-day trial, the duo were each convicted on three counts of conspiracy to commit extortion involving sums amounting to $7,650.
Easudas received five years in prison - one more than the four received by Saravanan, who had a smaller role in the conspiracy.
However, they were each cleared of two similar charges involving $15,000 - one acquittal having come at an earlier stage in the trial - due to insufficient evidence.
Both were also ordered to be given six strokes of the cane, although Easudas' suitability for caning is to be reviewed because he is partially paralysed. His jail term can be increased if he is unfit to be caned.
In handing down the punishments, District Judge Low Wee Ping said the men's actions were "despicable". He said it was clear that Easudas was more culpable than Saravanan, though his exact role in the hierarchy of the conspiracy was unclear. He agreed with prosecutors that the scheme had been carried out in a "sophisticated" manner.
Representing Easudas, who has a past conviction for rioting, lawyer Derek Kang said that the victims had not broken the law in responding to the ads.
They were fearful rather of the embarrassment and inconvenience a police investigation would cause, making the extortion committed against them less culpable than in other cases.
He said that Easudas, who was present in court in a wheelchair, had been paralysed from the waist down since an assault in 2000. Pleading for leniency, Saravanan said he was a single parent and had two young children and aged parents to support.
More than 30 charges are still outstanding for Easudas.
A pre-trial conference for these has been fixed for next Tuesday. The penalty for extortion is a jail term of between two and seven years, and caning.
This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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