Ex-bubble tea store owner acquitted of molesting two teen employees in Singapore

Tan Kah Heng (pictured) was accused of molesting two female employees aged 16 and 17 in 2017 but has been acquitted of the charges. — Picture by Nuria Ling/TODAY
Tan Kah Heng (pictured) was accused of molesting two female employees aged 16 and 17 in 2017 but has been acquitted of the charges. — Picture by Nuria Ling/TODAY

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SINGAPORE, Feb 25 — Two teenage employees at a now-defunct bubble tea store did not give evidence that was convincing enough to convict their former employer of molesting them, a district court judge has ruled.

Tan Kah Heng, 55, was acquitted of eight outrage of modesty charges yesterday. The prosecution withdrew a ninth charge midway through the trial.

He had been accused of molesting two female employees, aged 16 and 17 respectively at the time, in 2017. 

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

The two alleged victims had known each other from secondary school.

Tan was accused of touching the younger woman’s buttocks first, before smacking her there and hugging her from the back in November 2017.

As for the other woman, Tan was accused of brushing against her buttocks six times on unspecified dates that same month.

District Judge Christopher Goh said on Wednesday that at the end of the day, he was not convinced that either woman’s evidence was “unusually convincing” — the threshold to convict an accused person of molestation based mainly on the alleged victims’ evidence.

For example, the first alleged victim had made a police report on the evening of Nov 15, 2017. 

The three times Tan had allegedly molested her happened two to three weeks before this, but the charges did not state the dates or even the general time of day, the judge noted.

The police report also suggested that Tan molested her on Nov 11, 2017. She then confirmed that two purported acts occurred the following day instead, but was confronted with documentary evidence that she did not go to work that day.

As for her reaction after the alleged offence, District Judge Goh said that her actions did not appear consistent with someone who had been molested.

He added: “Her evidence was that she was shocked after the first incident of molest. Notwithstanding this, she did not tell anyone what happened, not even her close friend, (the other victim) who worked with her and even then, she continued to work for long hours after that. 

“If we were to take the number of hours as calculated by the victim herself, it would suggest that for the two weeks prior to Nov 15, 2017, she worked about 11 hours a day, assuming she had no off day. This appeared to me to be strange if she had indeed been molested.”

She had also not told her parents about what happened till two weeks after making a police report. The evidence suggested that she was more concerned about not getting her salary rather than the molestation, the judge added.

While there were allegations that Tan called the girl pet names such as “baby” over WhatsApp text messages, there was no further evidence of this, said District Judge Goh.

“I conclude that it would not be safe to convict the accused based on the evidence I have before me I did not find her actions internally or externally consistent,” he added.

As for the second teen, the judge found her evidence “so much less convincing” than the first.

He cited similar reasons such as her also being unable to pinpoint when the acts occurred, and her reactions after the incident.

In fact, the prosecution withdrew one of the charges relating to her as she had “set out a completely different story” than what was alleged. There was even confusion as to which charge should have been withdrawn.

District Judge Goh told the court: “The onus is always on the prosecution to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt and not for the accused to prove otherwise. Allegations of sexual misconduct are easy to make and, in most cases, difficult to disprove.”

Tan was represented by lawyer Chia Boon Teck from Chia Wong Chambers LLC. — TODAY

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