By VIVIEN CHAN
IT WAS easy money for the teen, especially since he was in debt from soccer betting.
That, plus the need for money to keep up with his tattoo fixation.
Despite knowing that it was illegal, Arshad Ajmal Mohamed Salih, 18, worked as a loan-shark runner for two months, earning about $60 each time for splashing paint at debtors' homes.
The money was so good that when friends told him they were in need, he introduced them to the 'job'.
Arshad pleaded guilty on 8 Sep to two charges of instigating two teenagers to write graffiti on the walls of two HDB blocks in April this year. Last Tuesday, he was sentenced to reformative training.
Arshad told The New Paper before he was sentenced: 'I had debts of $200 to $300 from gambling. I've been betting on soccer online since young. It started out of curiosity.'
Court documents revealed that he held three different jobs since graduating from secondary school in 2006.
But at the beginning of this year, he 'wanted a job which provided fast money'.
He began working for an unlicensed moneylender known as 'Black' in February.
Arshad said: 'I've never met the loan shark. I was introduced through older friends I met outside.' He said that though he did nothing more than splash paint, he felt guilty.
His two friends got caught while they were splashing paint at two blocks in Ang Mo Kio and Tampines. They told the police that Arshad had instructed them to commit the offence.
Arshad said of the two boys, aged 14 and 15: 'They came to me because they needed the money, so I introduced them. I just wanted to help them.'
Arshad received payment from 'Black' and paid part of it to the two teens who committed the acts of harassment.
As he awaited his turn before the judge on 8 Sep, the slim teenager was dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt buttoned up to the top.
Hints of a wild streak showed as bits of a large body tattoo peeked out above his collar.
Court documents revealed that he has spent at least $6,790 on 19 tattoos all over his body. His most expensive tattoo is a geisha and phoenix on his back. That cost $2,000.
He admitted having a 'passion for designs' and that his tattoos were a 'manifestation of his love for designs'.
But he also had a tattoo done on his chest in 2006 to denote his gang involvement.
He joined the gang in 2006, according to court documents. He claimed he left after his arrest in April this year.
After that, he covered the tattoo with a tribal design to avoid being affiliated with the gang. His parents were always against him having tattoos. They even signed him up for a programme to remove the tattoos in August last year.
Arshad is still undergoing sessions to remove a design that he tattooed on his forehead last year.
In court, he kept turning to look at his family. The son of a businessman and a housewife, Arshad has an elder brother and sister.
Court documents stated that 'his parents were not truthful with information they regarded as possibly detrimental to Arshad's chances of rehabilitation' and that they appeared 'lax in their supervision' of their son.
They initially said Arshad behaved well in school and was not involved in a gang.
Later, his mother admitted that she wrote excuse letters for Arshad whenever he did not feel like going to school.
Court documents stated that he was caught for smoking, extortion of money and truancy in secondary school. For his truancy, he was once suspended from school for three days.
It also stated that Arshad's 'secret society involvement appeared to be fairly deep'.
In his mitigation, his lawyer, Mr Rajan Supramaniam, said that Arshad, who has gone for counselling, has requested to enlist early for National Service, and wished to pursue his studies overseas.
Asked to be jailed
In an unusual request, Mr Rajan said that Arshad wanted a short jail term instead of probation or reformative training.
Arshad also chose to speak directly to District Judge Ng Peng Hong.
'I have plans to go overseas to study for a diploma in law. I want to be a useful person and want a short sentence so it won't affect my career and goals,' he told the judge.
Mr Rajan added that Arshad's remand has 'shaken' him and he is 'more remorseful' than before.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Sanjna Rai noted that the benchmark for the offence has always been reformative training.
Judge Ng found probation to be unsuitable, and sentenced Arshad to reformative training.
If his conduct is good, he may be released after 18 months. The normal duration of reformative training is three years.
When approached, Arshad's parents declined to comment.
Youths nabbed for loan shark-related activities
2006 - 12
2007 - 59
2008 - 63
So far in 2009 - 95
This article was first published in The New Paper.