TRS ad revenue 'used to pay mortgage on couple's apartment'

Yang and his wife Takagi arriving at the State Courts yesterday. Takagi was sentenced to 10 months in jail last week, while Yang has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of publishing seditious articles.
Yang and his wife Takagi arriving at the State Courts yesterday. Takagi was sentenced to 10 months in jail last week, while Yang has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of publishing seditious articles.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Advertising revenue earned by the owners of socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS) was used to pay the mortgage on an apartment held jointly by TRS chief editor Ai Takagi and her then boyfriend Yang Kaiheng, a district court heard yesterday.

Takagi, a 23-year-old Australian, paid off almost the entire 30-year loan of A$195,000 (S$201,000) in 11 months in 2014, leaving a balance of A$5,106.

The TRS website - of which she was a developer, operator, editor, moderator, administrator and owner - generated revenue through advertising, using Google AdSense.

 
 

Google AdSense automatically inserted advertisements into content published on the TRS website.

It also automatically tracked the number of visitors to the website, and tallied the amount of money to be paid to the owners.

From December 2013 to April last year, shortly before the TRS website and TRS Facebook page were shut down, Google paid a total of A$473,595 to the TRS owners.

The court heard that the couple, who married last October, were directors and shareholders of two Australian companies, both called Ryukun. Money credited into Ryukun's account by Google in 2014 was transferred to Takagi's Commonwealth Bank of Australia bank account. She transferred various sums of money to pay for the mortgage of the Brisbane property.

These details emerged when Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Roy Lim Eng Seng, from the Special Investigation Section of the Criminal Investigation Department, took the stand at Yang's trial.

Yang, 27, has pleaded not guilty to seven counts of publishing seditious articles on the TRS website and its Facebook page which tended to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between the different classes in Singapore's population.

One article, put up on Feb 4 last year, falsely asserted that a Filipino family caused an incident between the police and participants at the Thaipusam procession last year, while another "casts PRC women as home-wreckers".

Takagi, who is eight weeks pregnant, was sentenced to 10 months in jail last week after admitting to four counts under the Sedition Act.

In its opening statement earlier, the prosecution charged that the couple brazenly played up racism and xenophobia. They even resorted to outright and blatant fabrication to attract Internet users to their website with the aim of increasing their advertising revenue.

Bank statements showed that they earned between A$20,000 and A$50,000 plus a month.

DSP Lim, the investigation officer, said he picked up the couple from Yang's grandparents' home in Kalidasa Avenue, Upper Thomson, on Feb 6 last year after an online police report was made the previous day.

In his statement to the police, Yang said he mainly oversaw advertisements for the TRS page, as well as those on its iPhone and Android apps. Takagi was paid advertisement fees by Google AdSense.

"Although I do not manage the Facebook page at all, I do read articles on the page. This is my other involvement in the page apart from getting people to advertise on my page," he stated.

If convicted, Yang, defended by Mr Choo Zheng Xi, could be fined up to $3,000 and/or jailed for up to three years per charge. Deputy Public Prosecutors G. Kannan, Suhas Malhotra and Sheryl Janet George are prosecuting the case before District Judge Ng Peng Hong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2016, with the headline 'TRS ad revenue 'used to pay mortgage on couple's apartment''. Print Edition | Subscribe