A district judge jailed two legal debt collectors whose "aggressive behaviour and insulting words in a residential area in the late hours of the evening" would have caused public disquiet when they harassed a victim at a Chancery Lane house over an alleged $7.48 million debt.
Nigel Teo, then 24, and Ng Kin Meng, then 30, had pleaded guilty to a single charge of being part of an unlawful assembly of five men, who harassed occupant Karl Liew at the three-storey semi-detached house on Sept 22, 2015, at about 10.30pm.
Mr Liew was allegedly indebted to one Mr Alan Zhou, who in turn hired registered debt collectors Double Ace Associates to recover the money.
Teo and Ng, together with Andra Chew, Francis Lee and Tan Kian Tong, all from the same firm, admitted that for some 20 minutes, their aim had been to harass the victim, an offence under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA).
Teo and Ng also breached the Penal Code offence in being part of an assembly of five in the offending conduct.
The other three were also charged in relation to the case.
Their actions, which included repeatedly rattling the main gate of the house and shouting out Mr Liew's full name, caused fear and led him to call the police.
DON'TS OF DEBT COLLECTION
*Vandalism: Splashing paint or pasting notices, for instance, are offences under the Vandalism Act.
*Threats or intimidation: Using profanities or threatening more extreme measures to pressure the debtor into paying up.
*Unlawful stalking: Following the debtor around persistently to cause him distress or alarm.
*Unlawful assembly: Showing up in groups of five or more may constitute an unlawful assembly.
Among other things, Teo shouted "Don't be like ah gua" (Hokkien phrase for effeminate character) before slamming and pounding the gate many times.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Kenneth Kee urged the court to send a deterrent signal to other debt collectors who sought to apply "thuggish tactics" to force debtors to pay up.
He argued that the tactics used in this case were similar to "runners", who harass borrowers on behalf of unlicensed moneylenders, pointing out that the five from Double Ace Associates caused "public disquiet" to shame the debtor into paying up.
The prosecution noted that there was only one other reported case of illegal assembly involving harassment under POHA, and this involved the same agency's staff but over a different debtor.
Defence lawyer K. Jayakumar Naidu countered that the offending acts differed from unlicensed moneylenders, who bang on doors, splash paint and lock gates in a flash and disappear, and called for a fine, considering other cases.
District Judge Kenneth Yap, in judgment grounds last week, found there were "clear aggravating factors" that called for deterrence, for which a fine would not suffice.
He noted, among other things, that they had dared the victim to call the police, which suggested they possibly expected to be only fined for harassment.
"It is therefore important to send a clear and deterrent signal to Double Ace in particular, and to other aggressive debt collectors who may be waiting in the wings in general," said District Judge Yap.
"We should not countenance thuggish debt collection tactics that plainly and openly flout the law on harassment," he said.
Teo was jailed for six weeks for his greater culpability and an additional charge was taken into consideration, while Ng was jailed for three weeks as his actions related to only pressing the doorbell.
Both are on bail pending appeal.
•Additional reporting by Lim Min Zhang