Online Vice Ring: Pimp denies knowing underage prostitute used sister's IC

ON THE day her pimp claimed he did not know she used her elder sister's identity card to lie about her age, the girl at the centre of a massive online vice ring case took the stand for the first time.

And it emerged that she had sex with about 80 men when she was working for the pimp.

Yesterday was the second day of the trial of 41-year-old Juerg Buergin, one of 51 men charged with paying for sex with the girl when she was a 17-year-old minor.

It was also revealed that the Swiss father of two was a frequent client of the online vice ring, paying for the services of 10 other women, including a 43-year-old, at luxury hotels such as Grand Hyatt and Marina Mandarin.

The former UBS Investment Bank executive is the first to go on trial for twice having paid sex with the minor. He claimed he was deceived into believing that the girl was 18.

But when questioned by defence lawyer Selva K. Naidu, the 39-year-old pimp Tang Boon Thiew claimed he did not know the minor had been using her sister's IC, and denied that he suggested using the ruse.

"I did not condone the act. I wasn't agreeable to it. You could say that I refused to be part of the game. I told her I would just inform the client 'you didn't bring the IC'," he said.

When it was put to Tang that he was concerned that the minor's age would be discovered, he replied: "I don't think so because at the point in time, she was using her sister's identity card without my knowledge."

The defence tried to show that the girl's pimp had deliberately misled "Robert James" - the name used by Buergin for his bookings - about the girl's age. Tang denied this.

Then the court was cleared of the press and the public as the girl, who turned 20 last week, testified for about three hours.

At the end of the prosecution's case, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kavita Uthrapathy argued that Buergin had stood out among the minor's estimated 80 clients. The girl said she had provided sex for "fewer than three white guys".

She also testified that she had sex with the Swiss national at luxury hotels, unlike her other clients who had sex with her at budget hotels.

The prosecutor submitted that a "rather un-usual" thing was that the girl remembered how Buergin gave her money up front the first time they had sex, for which she was paid between $500 and $600, at the Shangri-La Hotel on Sept 29, 2010.

Earlier yesterday, the defence tried to show how Tang - who is appealing against his sentence of 58 months and a $90,000 fine for various vice-related offences - would at times ask Buergin to check out a "new girl" on his "viemodels" website.

Mr Naidu produced a list of bookings made by his client between Sept 27, 2010 and Nov 30, 2011.

It showed that he paid for the services of the minor and 10 other women, aged 20 to 43, at hotels such as St Regis, Grand Hyatt, Marina Mandarin and Conrad.

Tang had described the minor on the website as an 18-year-old polytechnic student who "has that naive girlishness, offers excellent sweet young thing, girlfriend experience".

Mr Naidu referred Tang to an SMS he had sent to the girl which read: "So u want to earn money then quick do as many as possible before becoming more and more stringent."

Asked to explain, Tang, dressed in purple prison overalls, said he guessed it was in the context of rules relating to checking in at budget hotels. Before, both parties did not have to show identity cards, but that had since changed.

So far, 18 men have been sentenced to between eight and 16 weeks in jail after admitting to paid sex with the underage prostitute.

The hearing continues on Monday.

elena@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Walter Sim