Saturday, 11 January 2014

Sheng Siong chief's mum kidnapped and freed; two arrested

2 charged under Kidnapping Act
By Walter Sim And Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Tmes, 11 Jan 2014

BARELY 48 hours after an audacious kidnapping of the elderly mother of Sheng Siong's chief executive, two men - believed to be lovers - were produced in court yesterday and charged under the Kidnapping Act.

Lee Sze Yong, 41, is accused of abducting Madam Ng Lye Poh, 79, between 10.30am and 1.02pm on Wednesday along Hougang Avenue 2, with the intent to hold her for ransom.

His accomplice, Heng Chen Boon, 50, is said to have helped him confine her in a vehicle near Sembawang Park between 8.30pm and midnight that day.

Both men stood stone-faced in the dock as the charges were read in English to Lee, an odd-job worker, and in Mandarin to Heng, a credit card promoter.

The court granted the prosecution's request for the two Singaporeans to be remanded pending further investigations.

Their case will be heard again next Friday. If convicted in Singapore's first kidnap-for-ransom case in over a decade, they face either death or life imprisonment. Lee, who is below 50, could also get up to 24 strokes.

Madam Ng was freed unhurt early Thursday morning, shortly after her son, Mr Lim Hock Chee, dropped off a $2 million ransom at Sembawang Park.

Mr Lim, founder of the Sheng Siong supermarket chain, has a net worth of US$515 million (S$655 million).

His mother was kidnapped on Wednesday after her daily visit to a market, which was abuzz yesterday as hawkers recalled the gregarious woman known to them as "Sheng Siong Ma".

Lee apparently lured her into a car after claiming that her son had been hurt badly in a fall. She was later bundled into a second car and blindfolded, and her hands and feet were bound.

The suspects were nabbed at about 1am on Thursday - an hour or so after Mr Lim dropped off the $2 million ransom. The full sum has been recovered.

The alleged kidnappers are believed to have used a Malaysian- registered phone number for their crime, but were foiled by their mobile phone's global positioning system (GPS).

Official records show that the two bachelors live together in an Hougang flat, about 2km away from the Lim family's residence. Heng was arrested at home, Lee in Ang Mo Kio. Neither is said to have known the Lims personally.

Lee's mother, who gave her name as Madam Seow, said the two men are "in a relationship", and have been living together for more than 10 years.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commended the police yesterday for a "great job" in making the swift arrests.

In a Facebook post, he said: "Glad Madam Ng is safe and sound. Also glad that her son... alerted the police as soon as it happened, so that the police could rescue Madam Ng and solve the case."

Sheng Siong chief's mum kidnapped and freed; two arrested
By Walter Sim, The Straits Tmes, 10 Jan 2014

TWO men were arrested yesterday for kidnapping the elderly mother of Sheng Siong chief executive Lim Hock Chee, in a brazen attempt to force the multi-millionaire into paying a $20 million ransom.

Madam Ng Lai Poh's kidnap ordeal, however, did not last very long. She was released unhurt shortly after her son, who founded the supermarket chain in 1985, paid a $2 million ransom just before midnight on Wednesday.

The 79-year-old was taken at about 11am earlier that day as she was walking along Hougang Avenue 2 (not Hougang Avenue 8 as previously reported based on what the police said) after a trip to a nearby market.

Madam Ng was alone at the time when one of the suspects allegedly lured her into a car on the pretext of taking her to see Mr Lim, who he claimed had been injured in a bad fall.

She was later bundled into a second car at an unknown place, where she was blindfolded and bound, and moved to another location.

The suspects, aged 41 and 50, were nabbed by the police at about 1am, an hour or so after Mr Lim had dropped off the ransom under a tree in Sembawang Park.

The two Singaporeans - the older one, a credit card promoter and the younger man, an odd-job worker - did not put up a struggle when apprehended.

If convicted under the Kidnapping Act, they face the death penalty or life in jail. The younger suspect may also be caned.

A police spokesman said during a press conference at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) yesterday afternoon that there had only been three other cases of kidnapping for ransom over the last 13 years.

The cases, reported between 2000 and 2003, were solved and the perpetrators jailed for life, with the main culprits each also punished with between three and 24 strokes of the cane.

Mr Lim told reporters yesterday that he received a call on Wednesday at about 1pm from a man demanding $20 million in exchange for releasing his mother.

Despite warnings from the kidnappers not to alert the police, he called "999" at 2.13pm to report it anyway.

He continued to negotiate with the kidnappers over 30 calls throughout the day with the covert assistance of the CID officers and brought the ransom figure down to $2 million.

That night, he drove alone to Sembawang Park with the bag of cash and placed it under a tree as instructed.

But the kidnappers never had a chance to touch the cash, which was recovered by the police in full at the drop-off point after they were arrested.

Madam Ng was resting when The Straits Times visited her home yesterday evening. Her granddaughter said she was "fine, stable, calm and resting well".

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday commended the police for the swift arrest.

"The family of the victim had done the right thing by lodging a police report immediately," he added.

Your son had a fall, stranger told Sheng Siong boss' mum
79-year-old was tied up and blindfolded in a kidnap ordeal that began near a Hougang market
By Joyce Lim, The Straits Tmes, 10 Jan 2014

MADAM Ng Lai Poh was walking home alone from a market when a man approached her to say her son was suffering after a bad fall.

He offered to take her to see him and the worried 79-year-old agreed to get in his car.

It was about 11am on Wednesday. The man took her from Hougang Avenue 2 (not Hougang Avenue 8 as previously reported based on what the police said) to a location unknown to her where she was tied up and blindfolded, beginning a kidnap ordeal lasting more than 12 hours.

At about 1pm the kidnappers called Madam Ng's son, Mr Lim Hock Chee, on his mobile phone to ask for a ransom of $20 million.

"The caller told me that my mother is in his hands and let me hear my mother's voice," said the 52-year-old chief executive officer of Sheng Siong supermarkets.

"At first I thought it was a scam because the person had called my mobile phone. I called my mother but the line was engaged. I called my maid at home and told her to call my mother. She also couldn't get through."

It was only then that Mr Lim realised that his mother had actually been kidnapped.

"The kidnappers threatened to hurt my mother if they didn't get the money," Mr Lim told reporters at a press conference yesterday at one of his supermarkets at Block 720 Clementi West Street 2.

"I was shocked. When such things happen, of course we would be frightened. But we tried to remain calm and solve it."

Mr Lim, who has eight siblings, decided to discuss the matter with his elder brother Lim Hock Eng, 53. Both agreed to call the police.

Police said they received a call from Mr Lim Hock Chee at 2.13pm, sparking immediate investigations by the Criminal Investigation and Police Intelligence departments.

Mr Lim said he received about 30 calls from the kidnappers throughout the day - though there was an hour or two when he heard nothing.

"Police helped to calm me down and taught me how to negotiate with the kidnappers," said Mr Lim in Mandarin.

He managed to negotiate the ransom sum to $2 million - but did not say how, citing ongoing investigations.

Before midnight yesterday, Mr Lim drove to Sembawang Park alone where he dropped off the ransom money, packed in a bag, under a tree.

Twenty minutes later, he received a call from the kidnappers informing him that his mother had been left in the Seletar West Camp area.

Police later found Madam Ng at a bus stop in Seletar Aerospace Drive and took her to Khoo Teck Puat Hospital for a check-up.

Within an hour or so after Madam Ng was released, police had tracked down two suspects. They were arrested separately in Hougang and Ang Mo Kio.

Police also recovered the $2 million ransom money from under a tree in the vicinity of carpark 2 of Sembawang Park.

Last night, outside Mr Lim's home, his elder brother Mr Lim Hock Eng told The Straits Times that Madam Ng was still "in a bit of shock". She had been discharged from hospital at 5am yesterday with doctors saying she was fine.

The family declined to let reporters speak to Madam Ng, saying she was resting at home.

Neighbours described Madam Ng as friendly and humble.

"She looks quite modern but she does not wear much jewellery or flaunt her wealth," said one, who declined to be named. "In fact if my other neighbour did not tell me, I wouldn't have known her son owns Sheng Siong supermarket chain."

The Straits Times understands that supervisors of at least eight Sheng Siong outlets received an internal memo after 6pm yesterday, advising them to say they knew nothing if approached by reporters.

News of the kidnapping spread among the supermarket chain's outlets. Staff said they were shocked, even though they knew little of Mr Lim's family. They did not know of any Sheng Siong employees who fitted the profile of the suspects.

Police identified one of the suspects as a 41-year-old odd-job labourer sub-contracted to a supermarket and the other as 50-year-old credit card promoter.

Three previous cases of kidnapping for ransom over 13 years
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Tmes, 10 Jan 2014

THERE have been three previous cases of kidnapping for a ransom in Singapore over the last 13 years. All three were successfully solved by police.
- On Christmas Day 2003, a seven-year-old girl was taken from her home off Yio Chu Kang Road by a man at about 4.30pm.
After being put into a waiting vehicle, her captors - two middle-aged men - drove off towards Punggol.

Fortunately, a catering assistant who was at the victim’s residence preparing for a Christmas party heard the commotion and took down the getaway vehicle’s licence number. She called her husband, who spotted the vehicle and gave chase. The kidnappers dumped the little girl off Tampines Street 72, half an hour after she was kidnapped.

Transport manager Tan Ping Koon, 35, and cleaning company owner Chua Ser Lian, 42, were both sentenced to life imprisonment and three strokes of the cane each for the offence.
- On Aug 7, 2003, jobless Selvaraju Satippan held MediaCorp TV journalist Nina Elizabeth Varghese to ransom in her Braddell Road home, tying her hands with electrical wire.
In the 3-1/2 hours that he detained her and her maid, Selvaraju also set fire to the clothes in her wardrobe, hurt her with a kitchen knife, and attempted to kill her.

The 22-year-old news reporter managed to escape through a bathroom window.

Selvaraju, 45, was sentenced to life imprisonment and given 24 strokes of the cane.
- On August 10, 2001, a day before his wedding, 33-year-old businessman Tay Teng Joo was ambushed outside his Bukit Timah bungalow, blindfolded and bundled into his black Mercedes-Benz 320 CLK.
For six hours, site manager Chng Teo Heng, 45, businesswoman Agnes Ng Lei Eng, 52, and freelance painter Ng Soon Teck, 44, held him hostage and demanded a ransom of $1.22 million, which his family paid that same day.

Within 24 hours, the police nabbed the kidnappers and recovered all but $903 of the ransom sum.

While Ng asked for the death sentence, the trio were each sentenced to life imprisonment, with Chng receiving an additional six strokes of the cane for using a knife in the abduction.

Special ceremony for police who solved kidnap case
They were lauded by MHA for the speed at which they nabbed the suspects
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 16 Jan 2014

THE Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), in an unusual move, held a special ceremony yesterday morning to present awards to dozens of the men in blue for their swift solving of the Sheng Siong kidnap case last week.

The award for police officers demonstrating professionalism and proficiency during operations is typically presented at the end of the year.

But the officers needing only about 12 hours to nab the suspects after being told of the kidnap - a rare crime in Singapore - has prompted the special effort at applauding their performance.

Said a ministry spokesman yesterday: "The ceremony is usually held on an annual basis. However, special ceremonies are held to recognise outstanding performance and excellent teamwork such as in this instance, when police swiftly solved this kidnap case."

The entire team of 39 officers, two police departments and four units received the Minister for Home Affairs Operational Excellence Award.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also the Minister for Home Affairs, looked cheerfully proud as he handed the officers their accolades at the ministry's headquarters at New Phoenix Park in the Novena area.

After the honours, Mr Teo chatted with the officers and was heard telling them: "Well done."

Among the award recipients is Assistant Superintendent of Police Burhanudeen Haji Hussainar, the lead investigator of the case.

Solving it brought him the "most satisfaction" in his 26 years of fighting crime, with cases that ranged from robbery to murder.

Said the 48-year-old from the Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) Special Investigation Section: "The reason I joined this section is because of the challenges and degree of complexity of the cases.

"For this kidnapping case... the successful arrest and recovery of the money gave me a sense of fulfilment that I've never experienced in the past."

The kidnap of the mother of Sheng Siong supermarket chain's chief executive, Mr Lim Hock Chee, is the first in Singapore since 2003.

Madam Ng Lye Poh, 79, was abducted on the morning of Jan 8 after a trip to a Hougang market. She was found about 15 hours later, around midnight, at a bus stop in Seletar, after a $2 million ransom was paid.

Two men were arrested about an hour after Madam Ng was found, and the ransom recovered. They have been charged under the Kidnapping Act and if found guilty, face either the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Yesterday, the assistant director of the CID's Major Crime Division, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police Adrian Quek, attributed the operation's success to three factors: Timely reporting by the victim's family, their willingness to trust the police and the close collaboration among the police units.

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