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SAF soldiers damage new cars in illegal joyride

Five SAF servicemen treated Sembawang Wharves as their private racing circuit, racing each other in new Kia Koup cars. Two cars collided and a third had its tyre stuck in a drain. -TNP

Fri, Mar 11, 2011
The New Paper

By Amanda Yong

THEY were stationed at Sembawang Wharves for an operation that night.

But the five SAF servicemen treated the place as their private racing circuit.

They took several new Kia Koup cars, which were parked there waiting to be shipped out, for a joy ride - not once, but three times.

As they raced each other, two of the cars collided when one tried to overtake the other. Later, a front tyre of a third car got stuck in a drain after a mishap.

The men's antics were caught on security cameras. A worker at the wharves also saw what they did and reported them.

The repairs to the cars cost about $13,100. Three of the men did not have valid driving licences. After a court martial, all five men were sentenced last Dec 3 to between six weeks' and 15 months' detention by the General Court Martial (GCM) Panel at the Subordinate Military Court.

They pleaded guilty to several charges, including theft of a motor vehicle, driving without a licence, driving without third-party insurance and leaving a place of duty as a sentry without having been regularly relieved.

Three of the men, Third Sergeant Chiam Toon Chong, 24, Lance Corporal Tan Fu Ning, 21, and Lance Cpl Tan Yong Chen, 21, are appealing against their sentences. They had been sentenced to detention of 15 months, nine monthsand 10 months, respectively. Their appeals will be heard in the Military Court of Appeal at the High Court tomorrow.

Since 2007, SAF troops have been deployed at key installations, such as Sembawang Wharves, Changi Airport and Jurong Island, as these are considered high-profile terrorist targets. Besides combat training, these soldiers will have been trained in areas such as assessing threats and analysing suspicious behaviour.

The five cars were among those shipped into the wharves from Korea and assigned parking spaces in a car yard by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) between March 11 and April 10 last year.

The five servicemen, all of whom are full-time national servicemen except for 3rd Sgt Chiam, who was a regular at that time, were stationed at the wharves for an operation on Aug 6 last year. Two of them, Private Tan Yuan Tat, 21, and Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng, were on sentry duty at a berth near the car yard from 7.30pm to midnight.

Half an hour into their shift, 3rd Sgt Chiam, Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning and Lance Cpl Tan Choon Siang, 21, approached them.

During their conversation, 3rd Sgt Chiam proposed that they "play with the new Kia cars together". The other four agreed.

Pte Tan and Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng then left their post with the others although they had not been regularly relieved of their duty.

Around 8.30pm, the five arrived at the car yard. Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning and Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng got into a silver car and the others into a blue car. The cars were not locked.

When they found the car keys, 3rd Sgt Chiam taught Pte Tan and Lance Cpl Tan Choon Siang how to start the engine.

Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning drove off in a red car, with Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng as passenger. They were followed by Pte Tan in the silver car - with Lance Cpl Tan Choon Siang as passenger - and 3rd Sgt Chiam in a blue car.

During the 15-minute joyride, Pte Tan tried to overtake Lance Cpl Tan FuNing but their cars collided.

Conceal damage

To conceal the damage, they parked the cars in an obscure area of the berth near the car yard. Later, Pte Tan and the three lance corporals moved two blue cars in front of the red and silver cars to hide the damage from plain view.

At 10pm, after 3rd Sgt Chiam and Lance Cpl Tan Choon Siang returned to the sleeping quarters, the other threemendecided to go for another joyride.

This time, Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng and Pte Tan drove the two blue cars that had been used to hide the damaged cars. Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning rode with Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng as he had offered to teach the latter how to drive.

For the next 15 minutes, the three men zipped around the wharves, taking the route they had used the first time.

When they returned to the car yard, Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning took over the wheel as Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng was not confident about parking the car.

Barely 15 minutes later, the trio went for a third spin. Lance Cpl Tan Fu Ning and Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng each took the blue cars they had driven earlier while Pte Tantook a dark-coloured car.

They drove for about 15 minutes. Then, while making a turn, Lance Cpl Tan Yong Cheng drove his car into a drain, causing a front tyre to be stuck. Pte Tan managed to free the car and drove it to the car yard.

But their joyrides didn't go unnoticed. An employee at the wharves saw them and reported the matter to the auxiliary police,whoinspected the cars.

The next day, the supervisor in charge of the five cars noticed that they were damaged and not properly aligned. Her aised the matter with PSA.

During a probe by SAF's Special Investigation Branch, two lance corporals said they had seen the five men driving the cars and they had been told by 3rd Sgt Chiam not to report the matter.

Two other lance corporals who were on sentry duty in the area that night said 3rd Sgt Chiam had told them to say that they had been on duty elsewhere if they were questioned.

They added that they felt pressured to listen to the sergeant as he was their superior and feared that he would make their lives difficult if they told the truth.

In passing sentence, the three-person GCM panel noted that three of the servicemen "took turns behind the wheel for joyrides and races, treating the Sembawang Wharves as their private race 'circuit' even though none of them were licensed to drive".

Unsurprisingly, the group ended up damaging the cars during their "brazen escapade".

The panel viewed 3rd Sgt Chiam as the ringleader and deserved the heaviest sentence of 15 months' detention. Pte Tan received the second heaviest sentence of 12 months' detention.

This was also due to their involvement in another incident at Maju Camp on Oct 28 last year for which they were convicted on other charges, including riding without a valid motorcycle licence and theft of a motorcycle.

Mr Gerard Ee, former president of the Automobile Association of Singapore, said brand new cars shipped out from factories usually have some petrol in them. He said: "They would have some fuel because they have to be driven from the factories to the ship and there's a whole team of drivers to drive these cars from the ship.

How military court works

WHEN Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel commit an offence while in service, they can be subjected to a court martial.

In such instances, the case is brought before a military court instead of a civilian court. The Subordinate Military Court, which is equivalent to Singapore's subordinate criminal courts, conducts proceedings using similar legal rules and procedures.

It is located at Choa Chu Kang Way and hears about 420 cases every year, The Straits Times reported in January 2008.

The most common offences heard in the court are absence without official leave, drug-related offences, disobedience and misconduct. Penalties under the SAF Act include reprimands, fines, detentionand discharge from service.

A serviceman may choose to be represented by a lawyer or an SAF defending officer at the court martial. In January 2008, Cyberpioneer, an SAF online publication, reported that the SAF had about 200 trained defending officers.

While a defending officer is available at no charge to the serviceman, he has to bear the cost of engaging a lawyer.

Only those guilty of the most severe offences are sentenced to detention. In 2007, fewer than 5 per cent of court martial cases were sentenced to detention.

The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) told The Straits Times that at anyone time, there were about 150 detainees at the SAF Detention Barracks in Kranji. These included SAF regulars and national servicemen.

Servicemen convicted at a court martial can file appeals, but only one or two doso each year. According to the Mindef website, the Military Court of Appeal is the SAF's highest court and its decision on a case is final.

It consists of a president and four other members appointed by the Armed Forces Council. Its president must be a judge of the Supreme Court, or a person qualified to be one.

Two of the members are either lawyers in private practice or senior legal officers from the Singapore Legal Service, while the other two members are senior SAF officers.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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