Boon Tat Street death: Businessman jailed 8½ years for killing son-in-law

Judge calls July 2017 attack 'vicious, brazen', but notes accused had major depressive disorder at the time

SPENCER TUPPANI, 39 He died after being stabbed three times in the chest outside a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He was chief executive and director of TNS Ocean Lines. SHYLLER TAN, 46 Tan's daughter, who was married to Mr Tuppani. The couple hav
Police investigators at the scene of Mr Spencer Tuppani's death. On July 10, 2017, Tan Nam Seng spotted Mr Tuppani at a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He returned with a knife and stabbed Mr Tuppani, who ran away and collapsed in front of a restaurant in Boon Tat Street.TNP FILE PHOTO
SPENCER TUPPANI, 39 He died after being stabbed three times in the chest outside a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He was chief executive and director of TNS Ocean Lines. SHYLLER TAN, 46 Tan's daughter, who was married to Mr Tuppani. The couple hav
TAN NAM SENG, 72: Semi-retired businessman who fatally stabbed his son-in-law in front of a lunchtime crowd on July 10, 2017. He was yesterday sentenced to 8 ½ years' jail. TNP FILE PHOTO
SPENCER TUPPANI, 39 He died after being stabbed three times in the chest outside a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He was chief executive and director of TNS Ocean Lines. SHYLLER TAN, 46 Tan's daughter, who was married to Mr Tuppani. The couple hav
SPENCER TUPPANI, 39: He died after being stabbed three times in the chest outside a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He was chief executive and director of TNS Ocean Lines.TNP FILE PHOTO
SPENCER TUPPANI, 39 He died after being stabbed three times in the chest outside a coffee shop in Telok Ayer Street. He was chief executive and director of TNS Ocean Lines. SHYLLER TAN, 46 Tan's daughter, who was married to Mr Tuppani. The couple hav
SHYLLER TAN, 46: Tan's daughter, who was married to Mr Tuppani. The couple have three children. TNP FILE PHOTO

A semi-retired businessman, who fatally stabbed his son-in-law in front of a lunchtime crowd three years ago, was sentenced to 8 ½ years' jail yesterday, in what a High Court judge described as a "tragic" case.

Tan Nam Seng, 72, was unhappy with how the younger man had treated his daughter and believed that it was part of a ploy to cheat him of his business.

Tan pleaded guilty last month to a reduced charge of culpable homicide for stabbing Mr Spencer Tuppani, 39, three times in the chest outside a Telok Ayer Street coffee shop at about 1.20pm on July 10, 2017.

Closed-circuit television footage played in court showed Mr Tuppani running away and collapsing in front of a restaurant in Boon Tat Street. Tan was seen in the footage kicking Mr Tuppani twice in the face and chasing passers-by away.

"This was a vicious and brazen killing carried out in broad daylight on an unsuspecting victim having a meal in a coffee shop in the Central Business District," said Justice Dedar Singh Gill in sentencing.

However, the judge noted that Tan was suffering from major depressive disorder at the time.

Tan's "fast-deteriorating health" also weighed heavily on the judge's mind, said Justice Gill. In the three years he spent in custody, Tan has contracted tuberculosis and had two heart attacks, among other medical issues.

The jail term was backdated to Tan's date of arrest. With the usual one-third remission, he is expected to be released in about 2 ½ years' time.

Yesterday, about 20 people including Tan's daughter and grandchildren turned up in court for the sentencing. Among them were several of his friends, who waved at him and gave him a thumbs-up as a sign of support.

On July 10, 2017, Tan was on his way to his office at Cecil Court when he saw Mr Tuppani in Telok Ayer Street. When he got to the office, Tan went to the pantry to look for a knife and then headed to the coffee shop.

 
 
 

PHONE CALL TO DAUGHTER

I can't sleep at night. I have done it. I have killed him. Don't cry. I am old already. I am not scared (of) going to jail.

TAN NAM SENG, to his daughter Shyller Tan on the phone, after stabbing her husband Spencer Tuppani in the street.

He told Mr Tuppani "you are too much" in Hokkien before pulling the knife out of his sling bag and stabbing the younger man.

After Mr Tuppani collapsed, Tan told passers-by: "This is my son-in-law, don't help him, let him die."

Putting the knife on a table, he sat on a chair and waited for the police to arrive. While waiting, Tan phoned his daughter.

 
 

"I can't sleep at night. I have done it. I have killed him. Don't cry. I am old already. I am not scared (of) going to jail," he told her.

Tan was originally charged with murder, but the charge was reduced after a psychiatric report found his depression had impaired his mental responsibility for his actions.

Yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Jian Yi sought 12 years' jail, calling the attack a case of "vigilante justice", motivated by revenge, that resulted in a brutal and public killing.

There is a need to deter others from taking matters into their own hands, he argued.

Defence counsel Wee Pan Lee sought 7 ½ years' jail, saying Tan had felt betrayed by Mr Tuppani, whom he had treated almost like his own son.

The lawyer said Mr Tuppani's mother and younger brother lived in the Tans' family home.

Mr Tuppani hired his parents as employees, even though they were not involved in the business, and used company funds to pay for his brother's overseas education.

In 2016, he persuaded the Tans to sell the company to GKE Corporation.

However, Tan and his daughter received only $450,000 each, instead of the $1 million and GKE shares they had expected, said Mr Wee.

 

In 2017, Tan's daughter Shyller discovered that Mr Tuppani had bought a property and had a second family with another woman.

Tan found out that Mr Tuppani had been recording the couple's arguments and believed he intended to use them in divorce proceedings.

Mr Tuppani had also assured him that he would not claim for custody of his three children with Shyller, but Tan later found out that his son-in-law had started custody claims.

"The constant reassurances and promises were lies and were all part of Spencer's ploy to destroy his family, by taking over the business and fighting for custody over the grandchildren," said Mr Wee.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Businessman jailed 8½ years for killing son-in-law'. Print Edition | Subscribe