Temple volunteer jailed over $210k theft

Lim broke into the temple more than 60 times to steal to feed his gambling habit.
Lim broke into the temple more than 60 times to steal to feed his gambling habit.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

He gets 6 years for housebreaking and theft of property, including deities' ornamental items

He was a volunteer and committee member of the Jin Ying Tang Temple, giving his time to help out at events. But behind the veneer of doing good, 45-year-old Lim Kok Tiong proved to be nothing more than a serial burglar.

He broke into the Ang Mo Kio temple's premises more than 60 times, and stole $209,520 worth of property, including almost 800 bottles of liquor and gold-plated shirts meant for deities, to feed his gambling habit.

Yesterday, he paid the price for his crimes when he was sentenced to six years in jail.

Around mid-March, Lim received a flier from a firm that promised cash in return for bottles of hard liquor. He decided to steal the liquor, kept for temple events, from its office. He removed a key to a meeting room and made a duplicate.

On 65 occasions between mid- March and September, he stole 780 bottles of Cordon Bleu. He sold them for between $60,000 and $70,000. One time, he also stole 12 bottles of cognac worth $2,520, and sold them for half the amount.

But bottles of liquor were not his only targets.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Caleb Tan described how on Oct 8, Lim was assisting with an event when he stayed to chat with a few temple committee members till the early hours of the next day.

At about 3am, he excused himself and went to the third-storey office, where he used a screwdriver to pry out a glass panel on the office door. He rejoined the group and stayed till they left at about 5am.

He then went back to the office and unlocked the door through the gap. He entered the office and broke open the metal key box, intending to unlock the cabinets in the office to steal any valuables he could find.

In one of the cabinets, he found a gold hat with a gold-plated shirt worth $17,000, a similar set worth $19,000 and a gold pacifier, two gold anklets and a gold chain worth $15,000. These ornamental items were meant to be placed on the temple idols.

Lim trimmed the oversized portions of the ornamental items to make them smaller, and hid them in a small pouch, which he placed inside a cupboard, intending to remove his loot later.

The temple reported the break-in to the police at 11.16am. Lim was arrested the same day.

He could have been jailed for up to 14 years for housebreaking and theft by night, and up to 10 years for each count of housebreaking and theft.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2016, with the headline 'Temple volunteer jailed over $210k theft'. Print Edition | Subscribe