When he met his good friend at a car park at the end of Punggol Road on Jan 8 last year, he was surprised to see a blindfolded elderly woman.
When Heng Chen Boon asked his friend Lee Sze Yong who the woman in the car was, Lee told him not to ask any questions.
It was only hours later at Sembawang Park that Lee told him that the woman, Madam Ng Lye Poh, then 79, was the mother of Sheng Siong supermarket chain chief executive officer Lim Hock Chee, and he had kidnapped her for ransom.
Heng was horrified. He burst into tears and asked Lee why he would do such a thing, Heng's lawyers, Mr Philip Fong and Mr Niklaus Tan, told the State Courts in mitigation yesterday.
He told Lee to let Madam Ng go as he had committed a serious offence.
But Lee told him they were in financial difficulties and it was too late to back out.
When Lee told him he could leave if he did not want to help, Heng agreed to assist him with the crime.
Heng, 51, who had pleaded guilty to one count of abetting Lee to abduct Madam Ng, was jailed for three years in Singapore's first kidnap-for-ransom case in more than a decade.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Kavita Uthrapathy said Heng and Lee first met sometime in the 1980s and were pen pals.
A few years later, they became "intimate friends", the court heard, and remained close even after they stopped being intimate some time later.
In 2005, Lee and his mother moved into Heng's flat at Block 573, Hougang Street 51, and he was later registered as its co-owner.
Heng's lawyers said that Lee dominated the decision-making in the relationship and Heng generally deferred to him.
In 2011, Lee, a retail sales executive, now 42, who was about $200,000 in debt, started planning to abduct someone for ransom.
He looked for potential targets by scanning through Forbes' list of Singapore's richest people.
Sometime that year, he began buying items that could help him to carry out his plans. (See report on facing page.)
In 2013, he read that Sheng Siong's Mr Lim was worth some $500 million.
Lee, who earned about $4,850 a month, staked out Mr Lim's house at Jalan Arif near Hougang in his Volkswagen Scirocco for about six months.
After observing the family, he decided to zero in on Madam Ng.
He rented a Honda Civic on Jan 8 last year and drove it to Hougang Avenue 2 at around 11.30am.
When Madam Ng, also known as Sheng Siong Ma in her neighbourhood, was walking from a nearby coffee shop, he approached her and lied that Mr Lim had fallen in his office and was in serious condition.
Lee said he had been asked to fetch her to see him. Believing him, Madam Ng sat in the front passenger seat of his car.
He then drove to Seletar Camp where he stopped and slipped into the back seat to blindfold her from behind.
DPP Kavita said: "At this juncture, Madam Ng knew that she was being abducted and pleaded with Lee to let her go, saying that she was old and had no money.
"Lee remained silent and reclined (her) seat so that other drivers... would not be able to see her."
Using a Malaysian SIM card, Lee phoned Mr Lim, 53, to tell him that he had abducted Madam Ng and demanded $20 million for her return.
The tycoon made a report at Woodlands West Neighbourhood Police Centre at around 2.15pm.
After this, he received an SMS from Lee with the same demand.
Lee then drove to the car park in Punggol where he called Heng, a credit card contract worker, to meet him there in his Volkswagen.
Heng agreed and arrived soon afterwards.
When he arrived, he was shocked to see the blindfolded Madam Ng in the Honda. Lee told him that it was part of his private investigation work and Heng believed him, his lawyers said.
Lee moved her into the Volkswagen and told Heng to return the rented Honda.
Heng did what he was told before going home.
While waiting for nightfall, Lee drove the Volkswagen to various places around Lim Chu Kang, Kranji and Jurong West.
At one point, Madam Ng told him that she was diabetic and had to take insulin injections. He ignored her pleas and continued driving.
When he called her son at 7.30pm, Mr Lim, acting under instructions from the police, told him that he was unable to raise the $20 million and negotiated the amount down to $2 million.
Lee then instructed him to go to Yishun Stadium alone at 8.30pm with the money.
He then called Heng to take a taxi to Sembawang Park to meet him.
When they met there later, Heng finally found out the truth.
DPP Kavita said: "(Heng) told Lee that what Lee had done was a serious offence in Singapore and asked him to let her go.
"Lee told (him) that they were facing financial difficulties and that it was too late to back out now."
When Heng agreed to help Lee, the latter asked him to keep an eye on Madam Ng while he collected the ransom.
At around 9.30pm, Lee called Mr Lim and asked him to go to a road near Sembawang Park.
Heng drove Madam Ng to a nearby coffee shop and waited for his friend in the vehicle.
At around 11pm, Lee called Mr Lim to drop the ransom at a specific tree at the end of the park while he watched from a distance.
After Mr Lim walked away, Lee ran to retrieve the bag containing the money and tossed it into thick vegetation at nearby Cyprus Road before leaving to meet Heng.
He told Heng to take a taxi home and drove the Volkswagen to Seletar Camp where he dropped Madam Ng at a bus stop.
He phoned Mr Lim to tell him where she was before going to a friend's home to clean up.
A team of police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department arrived at the bus stop at around 12.20am to pick Madam Ng up.
By then, they had established the identities of Lee and Heng.
Officers arrested Lee later that morning at the car park of Block 471, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.
They caught Heng soon afterwards in his Hougang flat.
The ransom was recovered about an hour later when Lee led the police where he had tossed the bag.
Heng's lawyers, Mr Fong and Mr Tan, urged District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim to sentence Heng to 18 months' jail.
In his mitigation, they said that Lee was the one who "manipulated, deceived and coerced" Heng into assisting him in the abduction.
They said that when he found out about the abduction, he "simply broke down and his mind just froze".
"He had simply no idea what to do. He also had no idea why (Lee) would do such a thing."
The lawyers added that their client was too trusting and gullible and that he was "unwittingly manipulated" into assisting Lee to watch over Madam Ng.
Dr Kenneth Koh, a psychiatrist at the Changi Prison Complex Medical Centre, examined Heng after his arrest and noted that he has low intellect.
Another psychiatrist, Dr Brian Yeo, found that Heng "suffered a momentary impairment in his judgment caused by acute stress reaction which was exacerbated by his low intelligence".
Heng, who was originally charged under the Kidnapping Act, had his charge reduced on April 9.
Lee still faces the kidnapping charge and his pre-trial conference will be held on May 22.
If convicted, Lee may face the gallows or life in prison with caning.
For abetting Lee to abduct Madam Ng, Heng could have been jailed up to 10 years and fined or caned.
Lee Sze Yong, 42, got these items for the abduction:
l A skin-coloured face mask bought from eBay.
l A taser bought from a Bangkok night market in Thailand.
l A Halloween face mask bought from a shop in Kuala Lumpur.
l Pepper spray bought from a shop in Kuala Lumpur.
l Cable ties bought from a shop at Sim Lim Tower.
l Two false car registration plates bought from a Johor Baru shop.
l A Malay woman's outfit with headgear bought at a night market in Singapore during Hari Raya in 2013.
l A bottle of chloroform bought online.
l Duct tape, chilli powder, fake blood, a hat, ropes, surgical mask and blindfolds bought at various locations in Singapore.
This article was first published on May 12, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.