Singapore couple who tortured tenant for eight months plead guilty to reduced charges

Tan Hui Zhen and Pua Hak Chuan utterly debased their victim, who died an ‘excruciating’ death. — TODAY pic
Tan Hui Zhen and Pua Hak Chuan utterly debased their victim, who died an ‘excruciating’ death. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Nov 28 — She called her abusers “jie jie” (older sister in Mandarin) and “jie fu” (brother-in-law in Mandarin).

Over eight months, married couple Pua Hak Chuan, 38, and Tan Hui Zhen, 33, inflicted a barrage of grotesque injuries on their tenant Annie Ee Yu Lian, 26.

In the prosecution’s words, Ee, who had borderline intelligence, was “utterly debased” and their “control and exploitation of Annie was complete”.

The couple, who were originally charged with murder, yesterday pleaded guilty to reduced charges including voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a weapon.

On April 12, 2015 — the day before her lifeless body was discovered in her room — Pua saw Ee trying to cut her wrist with a pair of scissors.

She told him that she was useless as she did not do what Tan had told her to do.

Ee had grown so weak that she urinated several times on the floor and could not put on a pair of shorts as her buttocks were too swollen and painful from their beatings.

The assaults that would cause her death began around 9pm.

Tan shouted for Ee to go to the living room of the four-room flat in Woodlands so she could question her on why she had urinated on the floor and was seeking attention.

Ee was panting and appeared sleepy and restless.

Tan decided to correct her posture and got angry when Ee started to fall asleep again. She used a roll of shrink wrap that was about 0.5m long and weighed about 1kg to hit Ee’s back multiple times, instructing the victim to raise her head and straighten her posture in between.

Ee fell to the floor and pleaded with Tan to stop hitting her.

When instructed to return to her room, Ee lost her balance and fell before inching forward. When she paused at its threshold, Pua got angry and began hitting her with the shrink wrap, thrusting it towards her abdomen and swinging it at her buttocks. He then picked up a plastic dustbin and smashed it on her right shoulder.

The dustbin cracked on impact.

Ee urinated on her mattress later that night and the couple lifted it onto the floor so the bedframe would not be dirtied. She was panting slowly and weakly and they took her blood pressure, deemed it to be normal, and returned to their room.

They found her dead at about 9am the next morning.

Ee died from acute fat embolism. She had been beaten so badly that her skin and fat dissociated from the muscle layer and the fatty tissue below the skin broke down and went into her blood stream and lungs. This interfered with the the oxygenation of blood in the lungs and led to cardiac and respiratory failure, which presented as panting.

Yesterday, Tan admitted to two counts of voluntarily causing grievous hurt and two counts of voluntarily causing grievous hurt with a weapon.

Pua was convicted of three counts of similar offences.

Deputy public prosecutors April Phang and Claire Poh called for 14 years’ jail and 12 strokes of the cane for Pua and 15 years’ jail for Tan.

Calling it an appalling case of abuse and cruelty that also revealed emotional blackmail and exploitation of a vulnerable victim, the prosecution said the abuse intensified over eight months from August 2014 to April 2015.

Ee and Tan became acquainted in 2001 when the former was only 13. Tan was working at a clothing store that Ee’s mother patronised. They kept in touch on and off over the years and the friendship rekindled in late 2013. Ee would occasionally stay over with the couple during her days off and apparently told Tan, who was unemployed, she wanted to move in.

She ended up cooking and cleaning and paid rent.

The abuse started around August 2014, when Tan and Pua — who was working as a storeman at Borneo Motors — suspected Ee for introducing bedbugs into the flat.

They demanded she pay S$2,000 (RM6,115.28) for their new bed and began recording her “debts” in a book.

As the alleged debts snowballed, Ee was made to hand her monthly pay cheque of S$1,200 to Tan. She was in turn given a weekly allowance of S$50, which was later reduced to S$30.

The assaults began with slapping, whipping with a belt, kicking and the banging of Ee’s head.

The victim did not fight back or shout and, from March 2015, the couple targeted the less conspicuous region of her buttocks. When large blisters appeared, Tan pricked one with a needle and, with her husband, used a sanitary pad and panty liners to absorb the blood from the wound.

Ee’s colleagues noticed her bruises and injuries and asked her about them. She kept quiet, once replying, “my family loh”.

In late Feb 2015, Tan made Ee switch jobs from Hot Tomato to Ichiban Boshi because her colleagues at Hot Tomato, an eatery, had begun to inquire into her injuries.

When the couple discovered Ee had died, Tan told her own brother that Ee had committed suicide and lied to the police.

Tan was found by Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist Kenneth Koh to have had moderate to severe depression at the time of the offences.

She was found to have borderline personality disorder, but was not of unsound mind during the offences.

The prosecution argued Tan’s condition cannot amount to a substantial sentencing discount.

“The sentence imposed on the accused persons must reflect the condemnation of the wider community for such monstrous cruelty and mindless violence,” it said.

Tan’s lawyer Josephus Tan said his client had endured “a long string of family abuses”, along with a history of self-harm, and three miscarriages.

As for Pua, defence lawyer Cory Wong said he was not the “principal offender” and his “motive was to appease his wife”.

Tan was seen, at various points of the hearing, sobbing uncontrollably. Pua, whose family members were in court, kept his head down.

The couple will return to the High Court on Friday to be sentenced. — TODAY

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