Court allows shoplifter to keep stolen designer wear

Sentenced woman made full restitution, so prosecution does not object to request

A 34-year-old shoplifter was allowed to keep the designer clothes she had stolen after she had made restitution to the shop owners.

Lawyers told The Sunday Times this was an unusual move, and it means Teo Bee Hwee gets to keep a pair of black Miu Miu pants and two Prada dresses worth more than $5,000 that she had lifted on separate occasions last year.

According to lawyers, stolen items are usually returned to the owners or disposed of by the police.

Last Wednesday, Teo, who faced three counts of theft, was sentenced to a four-month Day Reporting Order, without tagging, which means she is required to report regularly to a centre run by the Singapore Prison Service for supervision and counselling.

She also has to serve 200 hours of community service within a year.

According to court documents, on March 24 this year, Teo, a beauty salon owner, had gone to the Miu Miu boutique located at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, where she took several pieces to the fitting room.

She decided to steal a pair of black pants - valued at $1,060 - which she hid in her Hermes handbag. She then left the store.

The store manager alerted security, who later helped to detain Teo at the Prada boutique next door. The pants were found in Teo's handbag.

On two other occasions last year, Teo stole two Prada dresses valued at $3,910 and $2,610. The prosecution proceeded with one charge and the other two were taken into consideration during sentencing.

In his mitigation, lawyer Chia Boon Teck said his client, who is married without children, suffers from depression triggered by loneliness, as her husband travels frequently for work.

Mr Chia asked for a lenient, non-custodial sentence, and for the stolen items to be given to Teo - a request the prosecution did not object to. Mr Chia argued it was Teo's first brush with the law and she had since made full restitution of $5,625 for the three items.

District Judge Shaifuddin Saruwan allowed the items and Teo's Hermes handbag to be returned to her.

Criminal lawyer Rajan Subramaniam told The Straits Times it is rare for the offender to be allowed to keep the stolen goods as it could risk sending the wrong message to the public that "one can still profit from his or her own crime".

But lawyer Gloria James saw no issue with that, though she agreed that it was an unusual outcome.

Ms James explained: "The court has already punished her for the offence. And despite being punished, she has made restitution for the goods. Also, the goods had been away from the stores for some time and the store owners probably would not want them back."

Police statistics showed a drop in shop thefts, from 4,679 cases in 2010 to 3,985 last year. From January to March this year, there were 988 such cases.

joycel@sph.com.sg