Jail, cane for man who robbed pawn shop to repay gambling debt, only to gamble it away again

SINGAPORE - Left with only $3 after gambling his money away, a Malaysian man robbed a pawn shop to repay a $50,000 debt owed to friends and unlicensed loan sharks.

He threatened staff at knife-point and stole cash and items worth about $35,000, before heading to a casino where he gambled a large sum away.

Lim Cheng Siang, 46, an S pass holder at the time who worked as a general foreman dealing with lift maintenance, was arrested after an extensive manhunt led by the police.

On Tuesday (March 8), Lim pleaded guilty to robbery and was jailed for two and a half years and given six strokes of the cane.

The court heard that Lim, who has been working here since 2004, had a gambling addiction and was saddled with a debt of $50,000 since December 2020.

He had to repay up to $5,000 to his creditors each month despite earning only about $2,900 monthly, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Lu Jia.

On Sept 1 last year, Lim withdrew all his salary to gamble at the Marina Bay Sands Casino. He lost almost all of it and was left with just $3.

With no means to repay his creditors, Lim armed himself with a fruit knife the next day and headed to Marsiling at around 5pm to rob Shing Heng Group Pawn Shop.

He pretended to be interested in buying a gold bracelet and a gold chain - worth around $10,750 - and waited until the other customers had left the shop.

He then showed a sales assistant a handwritten note in Mandarin which said: "Do not shout. I only want money. I have a knife with me. I do not want to hurt anyone."

The woman was alarmed as Lim grabbed the chain and bracelet from the display tray and then took out his knife saying "money, money".

The woman screamed and ran to the office area behind the door to her colleagues. Lim hopped over the counter to prevent the door from closing and entered the office, demanding money.

Another sales assistant handed him stacks of cash until Lim was satisfied and left.

After the robbery, Lim headed to work to assign his workers with tasks, before heading to Marina Bay Sands Casino once again to gamble.

The staff at the pawn shop pressed a panic button which alerted the police after Lim left. It was calculated that he took $34,975 worth of cash and goods.

DPP Teo said about 20 police officers were involved in a manhunt for Lim, whose identity was established by analysing the fingerprints he left on his note.

Lim was arrested the next morning - on Sept 3, 2021 - at his rental flat in Sembawang, where officers seized items including $4,474 in stolen cash, the stolen jewellery and his knife.

DPP Teo said Lim spent $19,754 on food, taxi fare and gambling. He also handed some money to his creditors and ex-girlfriend.

The money robbed was significant and no restitution has been made, although some money was recovered, said DPP Teo.

The offence was also brazenly committed and difficult to detect, causing the police to use significant resources to trace Lim, she added.

The judge took the prosecution's sentencing position and backdated Lim's jail term to Sept 3, 2021.

For committing robbery, he could have been jailed up to 10 years and given six strokes of the cane.

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