THE courts have sent a strong message that young loan shark runners will not get away with probation, even if it is their first offence.
Yesterday, a national serviceman was sent to the Reformative Training Centre for splashing paint and using marker pens to deface the walls on staircase landings in Boon Lay and Holland Close.
Roy Chua Keng Boon, 20, had earlier admitted to committing the offences in May, together with Lok Wen Hui, 17. Lok was sent for reformative training last Friday.
Reformative training is a strict prison regime for young offenders. It consists of foot drills, counselling and education. Offenders spend at least 11/2 years behind bars. Upon release, they are placed under supervision, which includes wearing ankle tags that track their movements electronically.
Both probation and reformative training were recommended for Chua, but the prosecution objected to probation. Police prosecutor Sheik Allaudeen said there was a need to send a clear message that such offences would not be condoned. He said there was a rise in the number of youth engaged by illegal moneylending syndicates to harass debtors on their behalf.
In 2006, there were 12 youth arrested for loan shark activities and this number shot up to 56 in 2007, and 63 last year. For the first five months of this year, 56 youth have been nabbed.
Chua, said Senior Station Inspector Allaudeen, had agreed to do this for a paltry fee of $40 a case. He progressed from taking Lok to the destinations to making a career of harassing debtors because of the easy money to be made.
The prosecutor said syndicates engaging youth falsely assured them they would only get probation if caught.
In the past, courts used to grant probation to youth who commit such offences, said Senior Station Insp Allaudeen, adding that such offences were hard to detect as the harassment was done in the wee hours.
'Because of the lucrative money to be made, there is no shortage of new syndicates appearing on the scene,' he said. 'The syndicates are helped by youth like the accused in the dock who are willing to be the backbone of these syndicates.'
Senior Station Insp Allaudeen said Chua did not even know who his employers were, indicating how well organised the syndicates were.
He urged the court to consider the untold misery and anger caused to the victims and their neighbours who suffered in silence. Usually, they were not even the borrowers but innocent bystanders whose daily lives had been robbed of its tranquillity by the harassment.
Chua could have been fined between $4,000 and $40,000 and/or jailed for up to three years on each charge.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.