Boon Tat Street death: Man convicted of culpable homicide for stabbing son-in-law

Tan Nam Seng admitted that he repeatedly stabbed Spencer Tuppani outside a coffee shop at Telok Ayer Street on July 10, 2017. PHOTOS: ST FILE, SPENCER TUPPANI/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Unhappy with how his son-in-law had treated his daughter and believing that it was part of a plan to cheat him of his business, the semi-retired founder of a shipping company repeatedly stabbed the younger man in front of a lunchtime crowd in the Central Business District three years ago.

Before the police arrived, Tan Nam Seng phoned his daughter to tell her what he had done.

"I can't sleep at night. I have done it. I have killed him. Don't cry. I am old already. I am not scared (of) going to jail," he told her.

On Thursday (Aug 20), Tan, 72, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide for stabbing 39-year-old Spencer Tuppani in the chest three times outside a Telok Ayer Street coffee shop at about 1.20pm on July 10, 2017.

CCTV footage was played in court showing Tan attacking Mr Tuppani, who was having lunch with three friends at the coffee shop.

Footage was also shown of Mr Tuppani running away after being stabbed and then collapsing in front of a restaurant on Boon Tat Street.

Tan was seen in the footage kicking Mr Tuppani twice in the face and chasing passers-by away.

On Thursday, the grey-haired Tan, who looked much thinner than when he was charged in court three years ago, was expressionless in court.

He was originally charged with murder but the charge was reduced after a psychiatric assessment found that he was suffering from a major depressive disorder that significantly impaired his mental responsibility for his actions.

Tan's "pervasive dysphoric state, diminished ability to concentrate, negative cognition of helplessness, as well as overwhelming ruminations and worries about the well-being of his daughters" had affected his impulse control and judgment at the time, said an Institute of Mental Health report.

The court heard that Tan founded TNS Shipping, a company that provided port management services, in 1974.

His three daughters worked for the business, which grew into various companies over the years. Mr Tuppani began working in one of the companies after marrying Tan's eldest daughter Shyller in 2005.

The companies were later consolidated into TNS Ocean Lines, with Tan as the chairman and Mr Tuppani appointed as one of the directors, overseeing business expansion and sales and marketing.

In 2016, the company was sold to a bigger corporation and Mr Tuppani became the CEO of the new company.

Mr Tuppani, who proposed and handled the deal, had persuaded shareholders including his father-in-law and wife to assign their shares to him so as to boost his stake in the company.

Tan received $450,000 from the sale of his shares in the company.

"He was unhappy with the amount, as he expected to receive more," Deputy Public Prosecutor Lim Jian Yi told the court.

In early 2017, Ms Shyller Tan found out that Mr Tuppani was having an affair with another woman, and that he had two children from the affair.

The couple agreed to a divorce and frequently quarrelled over issues such as the custody and access of children. When Tan found out about this, he stepped in to mediate their discussions.

Tan also found out that Mr Tuppani was recording the couple's arguments and suspected that he intended to use the recordings to seek custody of the children and to avoid paying alimony.

On July 4, 2017, Tan's younger daughter Sherry was suspended from the company following a dispute with Mr Tuppani's personal assistant over the alleged circulation of messages concerning the family's matters.

Tan was troubled by the incident, as he believed that Mr Tuppani would remove Ms Shyller Tan from the company as well.

He also believed that this was part of Mr Tuppani's plan to cheat him of his business by divorcing his daughter after taking control of all their shares.

"This incident left the accused feeling lousy and miserable. He ruminated excessively about Spencer's actions and was unable to sleep at night," said the DPP.

The next day, Tan arranged to meet Mr Tuppani to discuss his younger daughter's suspension. When the younger man later cancelled the meeting, Tan felt Mr Tuppani was avoiding and disrespecting him.

On July 10, 2017, Tan was on the way to his office at Cecil Court when he saw Mr Tuppani having a meal at Telok Ayer Street and decided to confront him.

When he reached his office, Tan went to the pantry to look for a knife, then headed to the coffee shop.

At about 1.20pm, he told Mr Tuppani "you are too much" in Hokkien and then pulled the knife out from his sling bag and stabbed the younger man, with the intention to kill him.

After Mr Tuppani collapsed at Boon Tat Street, Tan told passers-by: "This is my son-in-law, don't help him, let him die."

He then placed the bloodied knife on a table beside him and calmly sat on a nearby chair.

While waiting for the police, he phoned Ms Shyller Tan. When she cried over the phone after hearing what he had done, he told her: "What's done cannot be undone."

The case was adjourned for the prosecution and defence to prepare sentencing arguments.

The maximum sentence for culpable homicide is life imprisonment and caning. Tan cannot be caned, as he is above the age of 50.

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