Life on the run

SINGAPORE - For 1½ months, the Singaporean car salesman was looking over his shoulder while on the run from the law here.

While in Malaysia and Thailand, Mr Tony Ong (not his real name), 53, feared being caught, but he also worried about his wife and two daughters back home. He eventually returned to Singapore and was arrested.

In a Friday interview with The New Paper, he said he could not have run forever.

In November last year, Mr Ong threatened a 20-year-old student with a knife and hit him over the head with a beer bottle, injuring the youth in the neck.

Afraid he had killed the victim, Mr Ong rushed home, hastily packed a bag, grabbed his passport and fled to Malaysia. He returned to Singapore in January, about 1½ months later, and was arrested at the immigration checkpoint.

He was charged with voluntarily causing hurt the next day and sentenced to three months' jail in April. He was released from prison about a month ago.

Last month, two Singaporean fugitives like him were caught in Malaysia.

Speaking about the incident from his Tiong Bahru flat, he said: "I didn't plan it. I hadn't planned to meet (the student and his friends). (Afterwards) I put a few sets of clothes in a duffel bag and took a few hundred dollars and left."

Not worthwhile

Lawyer Choo Si Sen, who has represented former fugitives like Chan Kwee Seng - who cheated Mitsui Bank of $1.8 million in 1988 and was on the run for 20 years - said that while it's easy for them to get fake documents and work, many do not find the fugitive life worthwhile.

Most fugitives surrender within six months, said chief executive of security consultancy Soverus, Mr Paul Lim.

"It's only a matter of time before they feel the innate need to go back to their family. Being a fugitive can be worse than being in jail," said Mr Lim, who spent 19 years with the police.

That was apparently the case with Mr Ong. When he left home the day of the incident, he told his wife that something happened and he had to go. She did not question him.

It was only a few days later that he called her to tell her the truth. The police had contacted her by then.

Said Mrs Ong, a kitchen helper: "He didn't tell me when he would come back and I worried about him, too."

On his reason for leaving Singapore, Mr Ong said: "It's not a good life in jail, who wants to go in?"

He said he had been jailed for six years from 1988 for secret society activities and had fully intended to be a law-abiding person after that.

He said he first met his victim and the victim's friends, who are all Myanmar nationals, three months before the incident and they had fought then.

Court documents state that on the day of the incident, at about 3am, the victim and other witnesses were having supper at a coffee shop when, without provocation, Mr Ong used a glass beer bottle to hit the victim once on the back of his head. He then fled the scene.

Relatives clueless

While on the run, Mr Ong moved around and stayed with relatives in Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur, he said. He also rented his own place.

Said Mr Ong: "I couldn't always stay at the same place. Relatives didn't know what I had done. I told them I was there on holiday."

He relied on the five to six hundred dollars he had taken out of Singapore to survive and he borrowed some money from these relatives as well.

At home, his wife relied on her work as a kitchen assistant to keep the family going. She earns $8 hourly working four or five days a week. After the initial telephone call to his wife, he did not contact her again as he did not want the police to trace any calls.

He spent his days walking aimlessly about, going for meals, or staying indoors, and worrying about his family, especially his daughters.

He said: "I'd think about what they were doing. I worried if anything happened to them as they are still young.

"I knew it was only a matter of time before I went back to Singapore. Within a few days of leaving, I already knew I couldn't run forever. So I wasn't really scared of getting caught, although I would be careful. "Before going outside, I'd look around to see if there were policemen first."

He did not wear any disguises, he added. But it was very hard to sleep, he said, and he would get at most three or four hours' sleep each night.

"Other than thinking about my family and remembering the kids' growing up years, I wondered what would happen if I went back home. What life in jail and after jail would be like.

"I thought (the fight) shouldn't have happened. I hadn't intended for it to happen. I'm not young. I had already decided to be a good person. But now the situation had become so dire," he said.

He said he decided to return in January after he realised there had been no news about the incident and he figured his victim was alive.

When asked if coming back turned out to be the right thing, Mrs Ong answered immediately: "Of course. A person can't stay away his whole life."

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