After a 30-day trial, popular restaurant group Paradise was yesterday found guilty of 29 out of 33 charges of using about $640,000 worth of gas without paying a cent for it, and tampering with gas meters at some of its outlets here.
The Energy Market Authority, which regulates the gas industry, is asking for the maximum fine of $610,000 - $10,000 for each of 21 tampering charges it was convicted of, and $50,000 for each of eight dishonest consumption charges.
The statutory board's prosecuting counsel, Mr Amarjit Singh, said yesterday that when someone steals utilities, it ultimately leads to consumers having to pay more. In addition, tampering with gas mains could interrupt supplies, or lead to gas leaks and even deaths.
"In natural resource-scarce Singapore, theft of utilities, if undeterred, can adversely affect suppliers and consumers as the cost of stolen utilities will invariably have to be spread out, borne by and shared between the suppliers and consumers, resulting in losses to suppliers, and in consumers having to pay more.
"Offences involving illegal tapping of gas and tampering with gas meter installations or gas mains also have the potential of causing interruption to supplies and considerable inconvenience to other consumers ," said Mr Singh.
The prosecuting counsel added: "Tampering with gas meter installations also poses public safety concerns... If the gas meter installation was somehow badly mishandled in the tampering process, gas leakage or explosion may occur, leading to property damage, injuries and/or deaths. This is... no laughing matter."
Senior Counsel Engelin Teh will present the defence's view of an appropriate sentence before District Judge Ng Peng Hong on June 24.
Paradise's offences were committed between August 2011 and April 2012. Gas provider City Gas detected an abnormally low gas consumption at Taste Paradise in Ion shopping mall on March 23, 2012, which led to the unravelling of the massive-scale fraud.
Seals meant to secure the bypass valve of gas meters at Paradise outlets were missing. In some instances, the position of the valve was moved from "closed" to "open", allowing gas to flow without registering on the meters.
Eight restaurants dishonestly used gas diverted past the meter, which was not reflected in the monthly bill issued by City Gas. The total loss suffered by the gas supplier was $636,438.12.
In January 2014, Paradise, known for both its fine-dining and casual Chinese eateries, was charged with tampering with the gas meters at 24 of its outlets.
Of the 24, 13 were from Paradise Inn eateries, four came under Kung Fu Paradise, two were from Seafood Paradise outlets, and one each was from Paradise Group Holdings, Paradise Dynasty, Paradise Pavilion, Taste Paradise and Canton Paradise.
The award-winning chain was founded by restaurateur Eldwin Chua, who went from running a zhi char stall in Defu Lane to operating restaurants under various brands, with footprints in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines and London.