'Lives could have been lost' as loan sharks set fire to flats

Loan sharks are believed to have set fire to the fronts of two flats in Jurong East early on Saturday.

But they might have been after a unit one floor below, which was outfitted with a surveillance camera.

"After the incident, the father of the person targeted by the loan sharks came to me to apologise, saying the debts were owed by a friend of his son, and that his son was only the guarantor," said one of the affected residents, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chen.

"The father offered to re-paint our door, but since it was badly burnt, I turned him down," added Ms Chen, who was cited by Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao yesterday.

When Wanbao visited the flat of the alleged guarantor on the 11th floor of Block 272 in Toh Guan Road after last Saturday's incident, which happened just past midnight, no one answered the bell.

Wanbao noted a closed-circuit television camera at the front of the flat, which includes two black boxes bearing a police logo.

The camera was apparently installed by the police following earlier reports by the family that it had faced harassment, according to Wanbao.

Recounting the incident, Ms Chen, who is in her 50s, said: "My husband, my son and I were soundly asleep when we were alerted to the fire by our neighbours, who rang our door bell. The whole episode gave me quite a scare."

Ms Chen questioned why her home was targeted when her family had no dealings with them, and why the culprits resorted to fire, as lives could have been lost.

Members of the other targeted household were also asleep when their home's front door, iron gate and other objects - such as some bonsai plants and shoes - placed in the corridor were burnt.

"We were awakened by the firemen who rang our door, and when we came out of our bedrooms, we found the whole house filled with smoke," one family member, who wanted be known only as Ms Liu, told Shin Min Daily News. She lives with her husband and mother-in-law.

"The floor near the front door was covered with black oil," added Ms Liu, who was still in shock.

"We were told to immediately evacuate when we went outside."

The first to discover the fire was apparently a man surnamed Li, who lives on a higher floor.

"I was chatting with my neighbour when I saw smoke billowing from a lower floor. I quickly rushed home to call the police," said the 41-year-old property agent.

The police said the case was established as one of "suspected unlicensed moneylending harassment by fire".

They added that no one was injured in the incident. The case is still under investigation.


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