SINGAPORE - The High Court on Monday (Aug 31) upheld the acquittal of two men, who were jointly tried last year for receiving payment in connection with the sexual exploitation of a male child victim of human trafficking.
The case, which is understood to be the first reported one involving a foreign male child victim of human trafficking, involved a then 16-year-old from Thailand, as well as Tan Boon Chian, the owner of a brothel, and his assistant Liew Beng Huat.
Tan was 54 and Liew was 61 when they were both acquitted in October last year.
There is a gag order on the victim in the case brought under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act.
Dismissing the prosecution's appeal to overturn the judgment, Justice Chua Lee Ming noted that the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence to prove that the men had reason to suspect there was an underage boy in the brothel.
Under section 6(1) of the Act, "any person who knowingly receives any payment in connection with the actual or intended exploitation in Singapore of a trafficked victim shall be guilty of an offence",
In their appeal, Deputy Public Prosecutors Gail Wong and Sarah Siaw said that Tan and Liew "had both authority and opportunity to investigate the prostitutes' ages" but they did not, which showed that they wanted to avoid confirming suspicions.
They argued that if Tan and Liew's "feeble disavowal of knowledge" was accepted, other brothel keepers and their assistants could "easily escape liability by deliberately remaining ignorant about these victims".
While the prosecution tried to make the case that the men were "wilfully blind", Justice Chua found that the facts they presented were "neutral", noting that he was not persuaded that the accused knew at least one of the prostitutes was underage.
He added that while the section "requires knowledge that the victim was underage", it "does not presume it".
Both men, who are Singaporean, were alleged to have committed the offences over four days from Dec 4, 2017.
Tan was said to have knowingly received $250 from various prostitutes in connection with the actual sexual exploitation of the child, who was a trafficked victim at the material time.
Liew was said to have received $90 from a person in connection with the actual sexual exploitation of the child.
Lawyers Choo Yean Lin and Tiah Kiang Choon defended Tan while Mr Leon Koh and Ms Elsie Lim represented Liew.
The charges were brought under Section 6(1) of the Act, which provides for a fine of up to $100,000 and a jail term of up to 10 years as well as up to six strokes of the cane for a first-time offender.