Plan was to steal, not kill, says Kovan double-murder suspect

Kovan double-murder suspect Iskandar Rahmat (centre).
Kovan double-murder suspect Iskandar Rahmat (centre).PHOTO: SHIN MIN

Murder was never on his mind.

Instead, the plan was just to take the money and run. But it all went horribly wrong when his 67-year-old victim attacked him with a knife, insisted Iskandar Rahmat, the Kovan double-murder suspect fighting for his life in court.

Yesterday, in front of a packed courtroom, the 36-year-old former policeman took the stand to give his side of what happened on July 10, 2013, when his attempt to steal ended with two men being stabbed to death - car workshop owner Tan Boon Sin and his 42-year-old son.

Iskandar claimed he was unarmed when he tried to trick Mr Tan into handing over his valuables, and stabbed and slashed at the two men only because they were preventing him from getting away.

After going home to change his bloodied clothes, he even drove past Upper Serangoon Road, near the crime scene in Hillside Drive.

  • Mired in debt after failed marriage

  • A short-lived marriage saddled Kovan double-murder suspect Iskandar Rahmat with a housing loan, a car loan and a renovation loan. At one point, he was facing a debt of nearly $90,000 before the bank agreed to cut it to $50,000.

    Iskandar, whose take-home pay was $3,100 as a senior staff sergeant in the police, told the High Court yesterday how his financial problems made him feel like he was at a "dead end".

    They led him to plot how to rob car workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, who he knew had $200,000 in a Certis Cisco safe deposit box.

    He did not elaborate on his failed marriage except to say that he divorced in 2005 after a year as he and his former wife could not get along.

    During their marriage, the couple bought a $360,000 flat in Tampines, for which they took out a loan of $290,000.

    They also borrowed $98,000 for a $108,000 car. Then there was a renovation loan of between $10,000 and $20,000.

    In 2006, the bank repossessed the car and auctioned it off, but Iskandar still had to repay $500 a month for two years to make up the shortfall.

    A few years later, he got a letter of demand for the outstanding amount on his renovation loan.

    His flat was sold by the bank for $450,000. Iskandar said he expected to make some money, but the bank told him he still owed $87,000 on all three loans.

    Speaking in a soft voice, the former policeman said he could not understand how the bank arrived at this figure, and claimed it never gave a satisfactory explanation for the amount.

    At the time, he was his family's main breadwinner, paying for groceries and the rent on their Kim Keat flat. His father was a

    taxi driver, his mother was a housewife, and his sister, a kindergarten teacher.

    In November 2012, when

    Mr Tan lodged a police report about the theft of $35,000 from his safe deposit box, Iskandar was the investigation officer on duty.

    The case was handed to another officer but Iskandar kept a copy of the report. He said he had a "passing idea" that this was a chance to get some money, but did not think more about it.

    But with bankruptcy and police disciplinary proceedings looming, he grew desperate.

    On July 8, 2013, fearful of losing his job and being made a bankrupt, he came up with the plan to trick Mr Tan and steal his valuables at the victim's home, he said.

    Two days later, he carried out his plot, which left Mr Tan, 67, and his 42-year-old son Chee Heong dead.

    Selina Lum

"There, I felt remorseful. The turn of events was not quite what I wanted it to be - it was so far from what I expected... I said some prayers, I said sorry that things had to turn out this way," he said.

Examined by his defence lawyer Shashi Nathan, Iskandar told the court how he planned to rob Mr Tan to solve his financial troubles. He had never met his victim, but knew he had $200,000 in a safe deposit box at Certis Cisco.

This was after Mr Tan lodged a police report about $35,000 stolen from the box. Iskandar was the initial investigating officer.

On July 8, facing imminent bankruptcy and possible dismissal from the force, he thought of a plan to steal Mr Tan's money.

Two days later, he called Mr Tan from a payphone, posing as an intelligence officer on a sting operation to catch the safe deposit box thief.

He told Mr Tan to substitute the valuables he still kept in the box with a closed-circuit TV camera so they could film the thief in action. The camera Iskandar supplied was a fake. He also connected an earpiece to a wristband and pretended it was a communications device.

But as his plan unfolded, a series of hiccups cropped up. Iskandar followed Mr Tan home in the workshop owner's car, planning to grab the valuables that had been put into an orange bag. But once inside the three-storey terraced house, the gate was closed and he realised he could not run off as planned and hail a cab.

He told Mr Tan to open the gate, pretending that he wanted to go out for a smoke. But then came another hitch. The bag, originally placed on the living room floor, was nowhere in sight when he returned.

Panicking, he told Mr Tan that the culprit had been caught, so they needed to put the valuables back. Iskandar said Mr Tan walked to the kitchen and got on the phone.

Soon, Mr Tan confronted him, saying there were no batteries in the camera and that Iskandar had cheated him. Mr Tan then came towards him, swinging a knife. Iskandar claimed his hand was cut as he tried to grab the weapon.

Mr Tan bit him and tugged at him strongly, he added. By then, all thought of money had left his mind. He was just fearful for his life.

As Mr Tan fell, his older son Chee Heong stepped into the house, shouting "Pa!" He charged and threw a punch. Iskandar said he retaliated without realising he had a knife in his hand. "I was very scared, there was so much blood," he said of his struggle with the son.

The younger Tan then staggered out of the house.

Iskandar drove off in the older man's car. He insisted that he did not realise the man's son was trapped under the car. The body was dragged a kilometre to Kovan MRT station, leaving a bloody trail.

Iskandar drove to Eunos, where he got into a car he had rented. After dumping his bloodstained clothes, the knife and other items in a canal at East Coast Park, he fled to Malaysia. Iskandar told the court that if he had intended to kill the older Mr Tan, he would have done it the moment they reached his house. The fact that he did not take along a change of clothes also showed he had no intention of stabbing anyone, he said.

The trial will resume on Nov 9.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2015, with the headline 'Plan was to steal, not kill, says Kovan double-murder suspect'. Print Edition | Subscribe