The Real Singapore trial: Co-founder Yang Kaiheng 'controlled bulk of ad revenue earnings'

Yang arriving at the State Courts yesterday. The prosecution told the court that Yang had a hand in almost every aspect of TRS' operations and used the money it made to pay for his apartment and university tuition fees.
Yang arriving at the State Courts yesterday. The prosecution told the court that Yang had a hand in almost every aspect of TRS' operations and used the money it made to pay for his apartment and university tuition fees.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Yang pleads guilty to six counts of sedition; court told of his extensive involvement in TRS

Singaporean Yang Kaiheng was a key person behind The Real Singapore, and controlled the bulk of about A$550,000 in advertising revenue the sociopolitical website made from December 2012 to April last year, the State Court heard yesterday.

He also had a hand in almost every aspect of the website's operations, from spearheading the development of mobile applications to deciding on which advertising platforms to work with.

The prosecution detailed his extensive involvement in the website yesterday when Yang pleaded guilty to six charges of sedition.

Two more charges - one of sedition and the other of failing to produce financial statements on the site's advertising earnings to the police - will be taken into consideration in sentencing, which has been set for next Tuesday.

Yang, 27, was charged with deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners through a series of articles on TRS, which he co-founded with his wife Ai Takagi and a friend.

  • TRS' seditious articles

  • Yang Kaiheng, the 27-year-old co-founder of sociopolitical website The Real Singapore, pleaded guilty to six charges of sedition for articles he published that promoted ill-will and hostility towards foreigners in Singapore. The articles are:

    •A Feb 4, 2015 piece that falsely claimed a Filipino family had caused an incident between the police and participants at last year's Thaipusam procession, by complaining about noise from the procession. The article had been based on an e-mail sent by TRS reader Gowri Yanaseckaran, but it was attributed to "Ri Nitesha". Ms Gowri also did not make any reference to a Filipino family in her e-mail.

    •A June 18, 2014 report that asserted, among other things, that Filipino managers working in Singapore would "constantly" give "preferential treatment" to subordinates of the same nationality at the expense of Singaporeans.

    •A Nov 24, 2013 article that alleged Filipino and Indian employees working in a Singapore multinational corporation had colluded to ensure Singaporeans were not considered for jobs in the company.

    •A May 22, 2014 article that casts women from China as homewreckers, whose main motive in coming to Singapore is to destroy Singaporean families and "hook men" so that they can apply for citizenship here.

    •A Feb 18, 2014 piece that alleged a woman from northern China had asked her grandson to urinate into a bottle on the MRT. The article was a doctored reproduction of an article that was published on citizen journalism portal Stomp.

    •An Oct 13, 2013 article that accused a particular company of hiring "more foreigners than locals". The article was accompanied by an editor's note that stated TRS' "objective" to "instil fear in companies and make them think twice before hiring foreigners". The editor's note was attributed to a person named "Farhan". In reality, the Malay name was adopted by Yang's 23-year-old wife Ai Takagi, to conceal her identity as a foreigner.

    Two other charges were taken into consideration for sentencing and had to do with:

    •A Facebook post related to the article that alleged a Filipino family's complaint had led to a scuffle between police and participants of last year's Thaipusam procession.

    •Yang's failure to hand over financial documents required by the police during investigations.

Takagi, 23, had pleaded guilty at the start of the hearing and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. She started serving her sentence in April.

Yang, however, had claimed trial, saying he was barely involved in the website.

But in an about-turn three days ago, he told the court he would plead guilty.

Facts of the case presented by the prosecution show he was not only instrumental in setting up TRS, but had masterminded ways for it to generate more revenue.

The bulk of the money went towards paying for an apartment he bought jointly with Takagi, as well as his tuition fees at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said between December 2012 and 2013, A$91,819.34 of the website's A$100,847.66 in advertising earnings had gone to Yang.

The money was credited to Takagi's bank account every month. But she would transfer all of it to Yang's account on the day the money came in or a few days later.

After they jointly set up a company to run TRS, the advertising revenue was paid to the company.

He also set up accounts on two websites, which let him source for freelancers providing IT services and track TRS' online traffic.

These helped him enhance TRS.

Yang, being TRS' proprietor, allowed Takagi to publish content on TRS and did not control or limit her, said DPP Kannan.

He also, among other things, had access to the site's management tool and could add, remove and edit its content, as well as its structure and layout.

But he did not edit or remove content from TRS even when told that some of the articles had flouted Singapore laws, said DPP Kannan.

One of them had defamed a Singapore minister, and TRS was told to remove it and issue an apology. It did not comply.

When the minister tried to take legal action, TRS published a statement saying: "Sorry, your request does not comply with our privacy policy and is therefore rejected."

The DPP said Yang "only elected to plead guilty after seven days of trial, after having been cross-examined for two days, and before the conclusion of cross-examination".

He had also lied in court and hid his involvement in TRS during investigations, Mr Kannan added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Co-founder 'controlled bulk of the ad revenue earnings''. Print Edition | Subscribe