Thai national, formerly a Singapore citizen, fined S$6,000 for defaulting on NS obligations

Ekawit Tangtrakarn pleaded guilty last month to defaulting on his NS obligations. — TODAY pic
Ekawit Tangtrakarn pleaded guilty last month to defaulting on his NS obligations. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 18 — In the first prosecution of a National Service (NS) defaulter who is no longer a citizen, a 24-year-old Thai national and former Singapore citizen was fined S$6,000 (RM18,144.30) yesterday.

Ekawit Tangtrakarn pleaded guilty last month to defaulting on his NS obligations.

The engineer was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993 and has lived there permanently since.

However, the Thai national also took on Singapore citizenship when he was one year old after his mother, a Singaporean, registered him as one.

Ekawit admitted to remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit from April 17, 2010, to October 16, 2015.

Another charge of being outside Singapore without a valid exit permit from October 2006 to April 2010 was considered during sentencing.

Ekawit travelled to the Republic on several occasions to visit his grandmother. In all but one occasion, he used his Thai passport. He last visited Singapore in October 2003 for a week during his 10th birthday.

After he turned 22 in 2015, he lost his Singapore citizenship after failing to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty.

Minors who are citizens by descent or registration must take the oath within 12 months of turning 21 years old, in order to remain a citizen.

Singapore does not permit dual citizenships; a foreign national minor who wishes to remain Singaporean must renounce his foreign citizenship within 12 months of reaching 21 years old.

In his sentencing remarks, District Judge John Ng said imprisonment was not an appropriate sentence for Ekawit as he is “first and foremost a Thai national or citizen before anything else”.

Furthermore, Ekawit had already completed mandatory military service in the Royal Thai Army.

“He did not fail to ‘return’ to Singapore since Singapore was neither his homeland nor his country of domicile. He had always remained rooted to his country of origin and domicile — Thailand,” the judge noted.

“It is incorrect to see Ekawit as a Singaporean boy who had stayed away from Singapore to escape performing NS, or in order to pursue his studies and only returning to serve NS at a time of his choosing. Ekawit’s situation is also different from someone who wants to leave Singapore to become a citizen of a foreign country without fulfilling his NS duties,” he added.

Speaking on behalf of his mother, Genevieve Lim, Ekawit’s lawyer S Radakrishnan told reporters that she thanked District Judge Ng for the fairness he had shown, and that they were “very relieved that the ordeal is over”.

The family will be heading back immediately to Bangkok, where they reside, the moment Ekawit’s passport is returned to him, Radakrishnan added.

Backgriund to the case 

Deputy public prosecutor Mansoor Amir told the court last month that Ekawit has been aware of his NS obligations since he was 13, as his mother had told him that was the reason he was no longer able to travel to Singapore to visit his relatives like he used to.

On July 7, 2006, before Ekawit turned 13, his mother, Lim, had contacted the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) to discuss his situation.

She emailed the CMPB that she had told her son of the “implications and duties” he would have to perform if he wished to hold on to his Singapore citizenship. His response to her was that he wanted to continue his education in Thailand.

CMPB then told Lim that her son was required to serve NS under the Enlistment Act, and holding a foreign citizenship did not absolve him of his obligations. She requested for Ekawit to be deferred from NS till he turned 21.

But when he turned 13 years old in October 2006, CPMB sent Lim a letter at their Thai address informing her that they were unable to grant Ekawit deferment till the age of 21, pending the renunciation of his Singapore citizenship.

The CMPB also told her that parents of boys aged between 13 and 16.5 years must furnish a bond if their son intends to travel or remain outside of Singapore for three months or longer. This bond comes in the form of a bank guarantee of a minimum of S$75,000, or 50 per cent of the combined annual gross income of the boy’s parents for the preceding year, whichever is higher.

Lim’s response to CMPB was that she did not have enough money.

There was subsequently more email exchanges. Later that month, she told them Ekawit asked her about how he could serve in an army which he had no loyalty for. She also shared his fear that she and his grandmother would have to pay for the bond required by CMPB.

In February 2008, a police gazette cum blacklist was raised against Ekawit.

Several years later, in November 2014, the CMPB emailed Lim to tell her that Ekawit was liable for NS, and that he was required to apply for an exit permit and register for NS at the age of 16.5 years. He had turned that age four years earlier.

Lim was also informed that Ekawit had been classified as an NS defaulter for remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit.

In October 2015, Ekawit ceased to become a Singapore citizen.

Then in May 2016, he was conferred his university degree from Bangkok’s Thammasat University, following which his mother wrote to CMPB in June to inform them that he was ready to return to Singapore to face his NS-related offences.

Under the Enlistment Act, Ekawit could have been jailed up to three years and/or fined up to S$10,000. — TODAY

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