Award-winning prof spared jail time for shoplifting

The judge noted that a psychiatrist had found Er Meng Joo to be suffering from a depressive episode which had contributed to him committing the offences.
The judge noted that a psychiatrist had found Er Meng Joo to be suffering from a depressive episode which had contributed to him committing the offences.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Judge sentences 55-year-old to 18-month mandatory treatment order for his condition

An award-winning professor at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) who was an elected member of its advisory board from 2009 to 2012 was convicted of shoplifting last month and sentenced yesterday to an 18-month mandatory treatment order (MTO).

Such orders require offenders who suffer from psychiatric conditions to undergo treatment in lieu of jail time.

Yesterday, District Judge Eddy Tham noted that a psychiatrist had found Er Meng Joo, 55, to be suffering from a depressive episode which had contributed to him committing the offences.

Judge Tham also warned Er that the MTO could be revoked if he reoffended or failed to comply with the conditions of his treatment.

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On April 20, the professor pleaded guilty to two counts of shoplifting items worth $225.15.

Five other shoplifting charges involving items worth $228.20 were taken into consideration during sentencing.

He admitted that he repeatedly stole from convenience stores at the petrol stations he frequented.

A Jan 29 clip showed Er stealing items such as a power bank, two air fresheners and a micro USB cable. Realising Er was a regular customer, Mr Lam tracked down his name and his car registration details.

Er, a professor of electrical and electronic engineering, stole items worth $453.35 between Jan 9 and 29 last year.

He lifted items such as air fresheners and toiletries from two FairPrice outlets at Esso petrol stations in Bukit Timah and Dunearn roads.

He was caught after Mr Lam Wing Kin, the manager of both stores, reviewed closed-circuit television footage in January last year and noticed Er behaving suspiciously while inside the Dunearn Road outlet.

One clip from Jan 27 showed Er taking some items, including a wall charger and two bottles of mouthwash, and leaving without paying.

A Jan 29 clip showed Er stealing items such as a power bank, two air fresheners and a micro USB cable.

Realising Er was a regular customer, Mr Lam tracked down his name and his car registration details.

He lodged a police report on Jan 30 last year, and Er admitted to the offences when police turned up at his home.

Er, who has earned many accolades, served as a member of the university's Senate Steering Committee from 2010 to 2012, according to details on the NTU website.

He clinched the Most Zealous Professor of the Year Award in 2009 and, five years later, the Outstanding Mentor Award.

When The Straits Times asked NTU what it will be doing to help Er following this case, its spokesman replied: "The university will evaluate the appropriate course of action to enable (the professor) to undergo his treatment as mandated by the court."

For each count of shoplifting, he could have been jailed for up to three years and fined.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2017, with the headline 'Award-winning prof spared jail time for shoplifting'. Print Edition | Subscribe