Singapore ex-bubble tea store owner on trial for allegedly molesting two teenage employees; defence claims collusion

Tan Kah Heng is contesting charges that he molested two teenage women employed at his Bubble Tea shop. — Reuters file pic
Tan Kah Heng is contesting charges that he molested two teenage women employed at his Bubble Tea shop. — Reuters file pic

SINGAPORE, Oct 13 — A man who owned a now-defunct bubble tea store went on trial today for allegedly molesting two teenage female employees in 2017 by touching their buttocks.

Tan Kah Heng, 55, is contesting three charges related to one alleged victim and another six charges of molesting the other teenager.

They were secondary school classmates, aged 16 and 17 respectively at the time.

Both of them and the store, located at an MRT station, cannot be named due to gag orders to protect the identities of the alleged victims.

Court documents stated that Tan allegedly touched the first employee’s buttocks first, before smacking her there and hugging her from the back on Nov 12, 2017.

As for the other woman, Tan purportedly brushed against her buttocks six times on unspecified dates that same month.

Today, after the first employee testified as to her version of events, Tan’s lawyer accused her of colluding with her friend to get Tan into trouble.

She had told the court that he failed to pay her salary for that month, then “kept prolonging and delaying” doing so till she got her father to meet him.

He allegedly called her ‘baby’

During questioning by Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh, she said she worked part-time at the store while waiting for her N-Level results.

She had found the job on advertising portal Gumtree and told her friend to get a job there too.

The first time Tan allegedly molested her, she was making drinks when he grabbed and squeezed her buttock, she claimed.

She was shocked but thought it could have been an accident.

“I thought it would come off wrongly... if I made it sound like it was an issue. And I was scared because he was my boss,” she added.

The next time, he told her to come up with a new beverage. She testified that after he tasted it, he slapped and grabbed her buttock for a few seconds.

When asked why she did not say anything, she said she “did not have the guts to tell him anything”.

After this, she reflected that the first incident may not have been accidental as Tan repeatedly called her “baby” in text messages that he sent her.

She had told him off but he continued calling her that, she said.

Leading up to the third alleged instance of molestation, she was experiencing back pain so Tan offered to show her a “back-cracking technique”. He then purportedly put his arms around her.

She said he persisted in doing so even though she kept pushing him away. They were alone in the store then.

Two days later, she met the store manager to talk about the incidents and told her friend what had happened.

On their advice, she lodged a report at Serangoon Neighbourhood Police Centre.

Mixed up dates?

Tan’s defence lawyer, Chia Boon Teck, then took his turn to cross-examine her.

He questioned how she could have been molested on Nov 12, 2017 when records showed that she was off work that day.

She conceded that she may have mixed up Nov 11 and 12. She had previously told the police she was molested on the earlier day.

The lawyer then put it to her that she had fabricated the Nov 12 allegations to frame Tan, and exaggerated the alleged offences in court. She disagreed.

As for the dispute over her salary, she insisted that this only arose after she filed her police report.

She also revealed that until last year, she did not know her friend had also lodged a police report against Tan — four days after she had made her own report.

“I put it to you that (both of you) colluded to frame my client to get him into trouble,” Chia said.

When she disagreed and asked what the motive for doing that was, he added: “The motive would be best known to yourself. We are equally mystified.

“It is too much of a coincidence for a police report to be four days apart, for allegations to be exactly the same (of touching buttocks) and you say you didn’t know anything about it.”

He said it was “unbelievable” that she did not tell her parents about the alleged molestations but told them about not getting her salary. She replied that she was not close to them.

The trial continues tomorrow, with the second alleged victim taking the stand.

If convicted of molestation, Tan could be jailed for up to two years, fined or both. Offenders can be caned but those above 50 cannot be under Singapore law. — TODAY

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