PP v Lee Sze Yong

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeChan Seng Onn J
Judgment Date01 December 2016
Docket NumberCriminal Case No 39 of 2016
Date01 December 2016

[2016] SGHC 267

High Court

Chan Seng Onn J

Criminal Case No 39 of 2016

Public Prosecutor
and
Lee Sze Yong

David Khoo and Zhuo Wenzhao (Attorney-General's Chambers) for the Prosecution;

Selva Kumara Naidu and Tham Lijing (Liberty Law Practice LLP, Ascendant Legal LLC) for the accused.

Case(s) referred to

Forward Food Management Pte Ltd v PP [2002] 1 SLR(R) 443; [2002] 2 SLR 40 (folld)

Nam Hong Construction & Engineering Pte Ltd v Kori Construction (S) Pte Ltd [2016] 4 SLR 604 (folld)

PP v Low Kok Heng [2007] 4 SLR(R) 183; [2007] 4 SLR 183 (folld)

PP v Tan Ping Koon [2004] SGHC 205 (folld)

Legislation referred to

Interpretation Act (Cap 1, 2002 Rev Ed) s 9A(1)

Kidnapping Act (Cap 101, 1970 Rev Ed)

Kidnapping Act (Cap 151, 1999 Rev Ed) ss 2, 3, 5(2)

Penal Code (Cap 224, 2008 Rev Ed) ss 362, 364

Criminal Law — Offences — Kidnapping — Accused planning to abduct wealthy persons in order to demand ransom and repay debts — Accused lying to victim to induce her to enter car — Accused demanding ransom from victim's son — Accused arrested after receiving ransom and releasing victim — Whether mens rea of offence under s 3 Kidnapping Act (Cap 151, 1999 Rev Ed) was intention not to release until and unless ransom was obtained — Whether accused possessed required mens rea — Section 3 Kidnapping Act (Cap 151, 1999 Rev Ed)

The accused claimed trial to a charge for the offence of kidnapping for ransom under s 3 of the Kidnapping Act (Cap 151, 1999 Rev Ed) (“the Act”). The victim, Mdm Ng Lye Poh (“Mdm Ng”), was the 79-year-old mother of Mr Lim Hock Chee (“Mr Lim”), a businessman who owned a well-known supermarket chain in Singapore.

At trial, the accused did not challenge the Prosecution's account of events. The accused conceived plans to abduct wealthy persons or their relatives in order to demand ransom as a means of repaying his debts. The accused gathered information and conducted surveillance on various potential targets, prepared detailed plans on how he might carry out the abductions and accumulated items that he might need to use in the process. The accused eventually decided to target Mdm Ng in order to demand ransom from Mr Lim.

The accused approached Mdm Ng and lied that Mr Lim had experienced a fall and that the accused had been tasked to drive Mdm Ng to see Mr Lim. Mdm Ng believed the accused's lie and entered the accused's car. The accused subsequently blindfolded Mdm Ng and contacted Mr Lim to demand ransom of $20m. The accused informed Mr Lim that Mdm Ng needed her daily insulin injection. After negotiations, the accused agreed to accept payment of $2m. Shortly after the accused collected the money and released Mdm Ng, he was arrested.

The accused's sole defence at trial was that he did not have the required mens rea for the offence under s 3 of the Act as he had always intended to release Mdm Ng that day regardless of whether he received the ransom. The defence argued that the mens rea under s 3 was the intention to hold the victim until and unless the ransom was paid. Thus the scope of the offence did not include an abductor whose intention was to release his hostage whether or not ransom was received.

The Prosecution disagreed with the defence's characterisation of the mens rea requirement for the s 3 offence. The mens rea was the intent to hold the victim for the purpose of ransom. The Prosecution argued that even if the defence's description of the mens rea was correct, the evidence did not show that the accused intended to release Mdm Ng regardless of whether ransom was paid.

Held, finding the accused guilty of the offence and convicting the accused of the charge:

(1) The actus reus of the s 3 offence was the abduction, wrongful restraint or wrongful confinement of the person who was held for ransom. The actus reus was satisfied when the accused lied to Mdm Ng, telling her that Mr Lim had suffered a fall and had sent the accused to bring Mdm Ng to Mr Lim's office, in a bid to induce Mdm Ng to get into the accused's car and leave the area: at [51] and [52].

(2) The legislative intent behind s 3 was to cast a wide net to penalise the actions of abductors who placed their victims and their relatives in fear that physical violence might be caused to the victims. Parliament did not draw a distinction between cases in which abductors intended to release their victims only if ransom was received, and those where abductors intended to effect such release after a certain period even if they did not obtain the desired payoff. In both types of cases, the victims and their families would undoubtedly experience fear and apprehension: at [65] and [66].

(3) Parliament intended to establish a strong disincentive for abductors to gamble against the investigative abilities of law enforcement in the hope that they might derive some ill-gotten gains. Yet this was precisely what a person who abducted his victim and sought ransom for the victim's release was doing, regardless of whether he intended to release his victim after a period of time despite not receiving the ransom: at [67].

(4) Given the sentencing options open to the court, the court could take into account a factor such as the intention of the abductor to release his victim even if he did not receive the ransom demanded when determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed: at [71].

(5) The mental element for the s 3 offence would be satisfied when the accused intended to hold the victim for the purpose of obtaining ransom. It was not part of the mens rea that the accused had to further intend to hold the victim until and unless ransom was obtained: at [72].

(6) The defence's argument that the mens rea was the intention to hold the victim until and unless ransom was paid ultimately entailed implausible consequences. Applying the defence's logic, an abductor who never intended to release his victim regardless of whether ransom was obtained would not have the required mens rea. But given the extreme culpability and moral blameworthiness of such an abductor, Parliament could not possibly have intended him to be excluded from the scope of the s 3 offence: at [77] to [80].

(7) Even if the defence's proposed mens rea was accepted, the evidence demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had intended to hold Mdm Ng until and unless Mr Lim made some payment for her release: at [85].

1 December 2016

Judgment reserved.

Chan Seng Onn J:

Introduction

1 The accused stood trial before me for the offence of kidnapping for ransom. The victim is the elderly mother of a successful businessman who owns a well-known supermarket chain in Singapore. At trial, the accused conceded that he had lied to the elderly lady to induce her into entering his car, that he had subsequently issued a demand for ransom to her wealthy son, and that he had released her only after receiving a bag containing cash amounting to $2m. But the defence emphasised throughout the course of the trial that the accused had intended to release the victim at the end of the day, even if he had not received the ransom he sought.

2 The dispute essentially narrows into a question of law: whether the statutory provision that creates the offence of kidnapping for ransom requires that the abductor intend to hold his victim until and unless he receives the ransom. The defence argues, and the Prosecution contends otherwise, that this is the correct reading of the statutory provision. I will explain my decision on this question of law and my overall determination of whether the Prosecution has succeeded in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the offence.

The charge

3 The accused faces a single charge (“the Charge”) under s 3 of the Kidnapping Act (Cap 151, 1999 Rev Ed) (“the Kidnapping Act”). The Charge reads as follows:

That you, LEE SZE YONG,

on 8 January 2014, from the roadside along Hougang Avenue 2, Singapore, did abduct one Ng Lye Poh, female / then 79 years old, with intent to hold the said Ng Lye Poh for ransom, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 3 of the Kidnapping Act, Chapter 151.

The evidence of the parties

4 I begin with a brief review of the evidence adduced at trial. Counsel for the accused did not challenge the admissibility or accuracy of any of the statements that the accused provided to the police. Upon the application of the Prosecution, I therefore admitted the following ten statements of the accused as evidence:

  • (a) one contemporaneous statement recorded on 9 January 2014 at about 6.19am;

  • (b) one cautioned statement recorded on 9 January 2014 at about 5.15pm; and

  • (c) eight other long statements, recorded between 11 January and 23 January 2014.

These statements are detailed and comprehensive. When aggregated with the undisputed evidence of the other witnesses, one can piece together a clear picture of the relevant events that transpired until the accused's arrest on 9 January 2014 at about 12.37am.

5 The Prosecution called a total of 29 witnesses. The accused was the only witness for the defence.

The accused

6 The accused is Mr Lee Sze Yong. At the material time in 2014, he was 41 years old. He works as a retail sales executive, drawing a monthly salary of about $4,850. Since 2005, the accused has resided in a four-room Housing Development Board (“HDB”) flat with Mr Heng Chen Boon (“Mr Heng”) and the accused's mother.

7 The accused and Mr Heng have been in a close relationship for many years. The flat in which they reside was originally purchased by Mr Heng, but the accused was subsequently added as a joint owner when Mr Heng faced difficulties in servicing the HDB loan. The accused has since taken on the...

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    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2016, December 2016
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