Sales executive Lee Sze Yong had hatched plans to kidnap wealthy people in Singapore before he decided to abduct the elderly mother of Sheng Siong supermarket boss Lim Hock Chee, the High Court heard yesterday.
He got Mr Lim's personal mobile phone number from a noticeboard at a Sheng Siong store after Mr Lim, whose business has assets totalling $500 million, posted his number for customers to give feedback.
Prosecutors said Lee carried out extensive research on Mr Lim's family, obtained pepper spray and chloroform, prepared face masks and costumes, and bought a Malaysian SIM card which he used to call Mr Lim.
Though he had a car, Lee, 44, drove a rented Honda Civic when he allegedly carried out his plan to abduct Madam Ng Lye Poh in Hougang Avenue 2 on Jan 8, 2014, with intent to hold her for ransom.
On the first day of Lee's trial, the prosecution said there was "overwhelming evidence" to show that he had planned and carried out the kidnapping. If convicted under the Kidnapping Act, Lee faces the death penalty or life imprisonment and caning. Deputy Public Prosecutor David Khoo told the court Lee tricked Madam Ng, 79, into getting into his car after telling her that her son had a fall in the office. She was later blindfolded and driven around for 12 hours.
Lee called Mr Lim and sought ransom of $20 million but the sum was negotiated down to $2 million.
Madam Ng was released after Mr Lim dropped off a bag with the cash at a tree in Sembawang Park. Lee was arrested in Ang Mo Kio shortly after and led the police to the bag he had thrown into bushes.
He does not deny abducting Madam Ng. After his arrest, he gave the police a detailed account of events.
His assigned lawyer, Mr Selva K. Naidu, told the court yesterday that he was not challenging the admissibility of his police statements.
In his statements, Lee said he had debts of close to $200,000. He maintained that he had no intention to harm anyone and would have released Madam Ng that same night, with or without the ransom.
"I really regretted doing this and I felt very bad getting Daniel involved despite his plea asking me not to do illegal things," he said. Daniel refers to Mr Heng Chen Boon, 52, his friend and one-time sexual partner, who helped Lee swop cars, guard the victim and act as a lookout.
Mr Heng, jailed for three years last year after admitting to a reduced charge of helping Lee abduct Madam Ng, testified yesterday as a prosecution witness. He was released from jail in January.
Mr Lim also took the stand. He said that when he got a call at about 12.45pm, asking for $20 million in exchange for his mother's release, he thought it was a phone scam.
But he could not locate his mother or reach her. "I was worried for my mother's life. I was scared," he said in Mandarin. Ten minutes later, he received a text in Chinese asking for the cash to be in $100 and $1,000 notes. Mr Lim said the family decided to go to the police even though the caller warned them against it.
The family raised $8 million in cash but Mr Lim told the court that on police advice, he negotiated the ransom. He said the caller complained $2 million was insufficient but accepted it.
It is not clear at this point what Lee's defence is. Madam Ng is set to testify tomorrow.