Cabby who falsely claimed foodcourts would close among 4 convicted of coronavirus-linked offences

(Clockwise from top left) Kenneth Lai Yong Hui, Quresh Singh Sandhu, and Zahari Samat and Arvinish N. Ramakrishnan.
(Clockwise from top left) Kenneth Lai Yong Hui, Quresh Singh Sandhu, and Zahari Samat and Arvinish N. Ramakrishnan.PHOTOS: ST FILE, WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A taxi driver posted a false message in a Facebook group, claiming he had received information that all foodcourts and coffee shops would close and supermarkets would open only two days a week.

He was one of four men who pleaded guilty in a district court on Wednesday (May 27) to offences during the coronavirus outbreak.

In his Facebook post, 40-year-old Kenneth Lai Yong Hui also stated: "Better go stock up your stuff for the next month or so."

The prosecution said that his lies could "conceivably result in public alarm and panic buying" and urged District Judge Seah Chi-Ling to sentence him to at least four months' jail.

The judge agreed with Deputy Public Prosecutor Deborah Lee and sentenced the Singaporean to four months' jail after he pleaded guilty to transmitting the false message.

Lai claimed that some time between April 15 and 16, he saw a text message on WhatsApp which said that hawker centres and coffee shops would be closed.

The DPP said: "The accused was unable to identify who sent the alleged text message, and it was also not recovered from the phone of the accused."

Without taking any steps to verify the contents of the alleged WhatsApp message, Lai posted a message in the Taxiuncle private Facebook group which had about 7,500 members.

He stated: "Got intel say sg will proceed with more measures in place... Food courts, coffee shop all to close. Supermarkets will only open two days a week.

"Better go stock up your stuff for the next month or so. Govt officials in meeting yesterday and will (finalise) measures tomorrow."

A few people later commented on his post, advising him not to spread rumours and he deleted it about 15 minutes later.

 
 

A man, who used to book Lai's taxi service and knew his mobile phone number, alerted the police on April 20.

For transmitting the false message, he could have been jailed for up to three years and fined up to $10,000.

Two of the remaining three men convicted in court on Wednesday are Singaporeans. They were Quresh Singh Sandhu, 27 and Zahari Samat, 60. The fourth man, Arvinish N. Ramakrishnan, 23, is a Malaysian.

REPORTED FOR WORK AT MBS

Singh was sentenced to six weeks' jail after he pleaded guilty to an offence under the Infectious Diseases Act.

He was served with a stay-home notice (SHN) at around 3pm on March 17 after returning to Singapore from Batam, Indonesia.

As part of the notice, he was supposed to remain at his Sembawang Drive home until March 31.

 
 

Instead of going straight home after clearing immigration, he went to HarbourFront MRT station, took a train to Bayfront station and headed to Marina Bay Sands (MBS) where he worked as a security officer.

He started his shift at 8pm and later took a train to Rochor MRT station when it ended at around 8am the next day.

Subsequently, he went to his company's lodging place at the Snooze Inn in Dunlop Street in Little India where he shared a room with three colleagues.

Singh repeated this routine of commuting between Snooze Inn to MBS from then until March 21.

Officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority conducted a check on March 21 and found that he was not home.

Singh's workplace supervisor also found out about the SHN and told him to go home immediately that day.

RODE MOTORBIKE AFTER DRINKING SESSION WITH FRIEND

Arvinish pleaded guilty to one count each of an offence under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and riding a motorcycle shortly after consuming alcohol.

He had unlawfully met one of his Malaysian friends, Mr Siddhartha Gauthma Robat, 27, on April 19.

 
 

Mr Siddhartha had gone to Arvinish's Yishun flat at around midnight that day for a drinking session. The court heard that Arvinish downed about five glasses of liquor.

He offered to give Mr Siddhartha a lift home later that morning.

Mr Siddhartha was riding pillion on Arvinish's motorcycle when a traffic police officer stopped them for a spot check along Yishun Avenue 6.

Arvinish was later found to have 43 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath. The prescribed limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath.

Court documents did not state if action will be taken against Mr Siddhartha.

LEFT HOME TO BUY FOOD AND CIGARETTES

Zahari, who pleaded guilty to an offence under the Infectious Diseases (Covid-19 Stay Orders) Regulations, returned to Singapore from Batam on April 1.

He was then given an SHN, stating that he had to remain at home until April 15.

 

But he left his North Bridge Road flat on April 8 and was arrested at an open-air carpark at around 4pm that day.

Zahari told investigators that after leaving his home, he also walked about 450m to a nearby coffee shop to buy some food. After that, he went to a shop and bought a packet of cigarettes.

Arvinish and Zahari will be sentenced on June 3.

Correction note: The article has been updated with the correct name of the judge.