Singapore Civil Defence Force ragging death: Two commanders jailed 10 weeks each, prosecution appealing against reduced charges

File photo showing lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, the commander of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin’s team at Tuas View Fire Station, leaving the State Courts in Singapore July 17, 2020. — TODAY pic
File photo showing lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, the commander of Corporal Kok Yuen Chin’s team at Tuas View Fire Station, leaving the State Courts in Singapore July 17, 2020. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Sept 16 — Two officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SDFC) were sentenced to 10 weeks’ jail each yesterday, after being convicted of reduced charges of committing a negligent act that caused the death of a full-time national serviceman.

In May 2018, Corporal Kok Yuen Chin, then 22, drowned in a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station. It was SCDF’s first death from ragging.

Kok, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia who did not know how to swim, was taken out of the well after several failed attempts to rescue him.

Lieutenant Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 39, was the commander of Rota 3, Kok’s team. First Senior Warrant Officer Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 42, was Chong’s deputy.

Both men had failed to prevent their subordinates from carrying out the so-called “kolam” (Malay for “well”) ragging activity on Kok, which involves servicemen entering the well.

Both claimed trial to their initial charge of aiding a group of servicemen to cause grievous hurt. 

After Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun lowered the charges in July, the prosecution filed an appeal.

Chong — represented by defence lawyer Wee Pan Lee — pleaded guilty, while Nazhan, defended by Singa Retnam, contested the reduced charge. He was convicted last month.

Singa said yesterday that Nazhan will be appealing against his conviction and sentence, while Chong began serving his sentence immediately.

‘Grossly negligent’

In passing the sentence, Senior District Judge Ong said that there is “significant public interest” in deterring ragging activities within the SCDF. 

Public confidence must not be eroded when commanders take a permissive stance with servicemen, especially during National Service, the judge added.

While the prosecution sought the maximum jail sentence — three months — for both Nazhan and Chong, the judge took into account several factors in finding that this did not represent the most serious case of its kind.

“The accused were grossly negligent in allowing kolam to proceed even though they did not know he could not swim.

“As the highest ranking officers at the time, Kok would have looked to both of them as his commanders to ensure his safety. This failure by the accused persons reflects a blatant form of negligence,” the judge added.

Kok’s father, Kok Meng Hwa, 58, a construction worker, was present in court yesterday. 

He told reporters in Mandarin: “Guilty or not, I also don’t know, but they should have asked them not to play until (they went overboard). They didn’t even stop them.

“The accident has already happened. My son is from (abroad) and wasn’t familiar.”

What happened

A group of SCDF officers, including Chong and Nazhan, had gathered at the fire station’s watch room on the evening of May 13, 2018 to celebrate Kok’s last duty tour before his National Service stint was to end three days later.

They presented him with a cake and plaque in the watch room, before some of them carried him out to the well.

Chong did not follow his men out of the room, but stayed behind to chat with a colleague.

It was only when he turned his head around and glanced out the window that he noticed a group of men had gathered around the well.

He testified that he opened the window and immediately shouted “no filming” at the men.

The court had also heard that Nazhan told Kok to jump closer to the ledge of the well, and told the others not to take photos or videos of the incident before he returned to his office.

When another of Kok’s colleagues asked him if he was ready, he replied in Malay: “Belum, Encik (No, Sir).”

Several of them goaded him to jump in and he responded with “Cannot, Encik”, which turned out to be his last words.

Another SCDF officer, Staff Sergeant Nur Fatwa Mahmood, 34, then pushed him into the well.

Fatwa and two officers have been dealt with in court. — TODAY

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