Recalcitrant thief jailed for stealing from temple's donation box

SINGAPORE - After being caught and jailed for stealing from a church's donation box in 2009, a 69-year-old odd job-worker was back to his old tricks again this year - stealing a total of more than $100 in several raids on a Taoist temple.

The seasoned thief would climb over the temple's back wall and insert a long piece of tape into donation boxes to extract cash.

Wong Ah Khiang was sentenced to four years and four months after he pleaded guilty to three charges of housebreaking by night to commit theft. Another six charges were taken into account during sentencing.

The court heard that Wong is a repeat offender who was arrested and jailed on multiple occasions between 2004 and 2013, for similar offences. He was last jailed for 12 weeks in 2013, for theft and criminal trespass.

According to Deputy Public Prosecutor Teo Siu Ming, Wong stole from Kim Hong Temple on Arumugam Road on nine occasions in April and May this year, making away with sums of about $8 to $25 each time.

After climbing over the temple's back wall, Wong would insert a tool he fashioned - a long piece of black non-sticky tape with glue or double-sided tape applied to one end - into the donation boxes.

He would then retrieve the cash stuck to the tool's sticky end, and climb back over the temple's back wall to escape.

His misdeeds came to light on May 21, when the temple's chairman Tay Kim Beng, 62, told the temple's closed-circuit television supplier that there was cash missing from the donation boxes.

The company reviewed the footage and spotted the thief.

A police report was made on May 24.

Wong was later traced and identified as the thief, and was arrested on May 30. He admitted to stealing a total of $113 and said he had spent the money on his daily expenses.

During his sentencing, District Judge Marvin Bay said: "Taking donation monies from a temple or indeed any place of worship must be seriously regarded, as your act intrudes into a place that is considered sanctified by the worshippers there."

Wong will start his sentence on Sept 25.

For housebreaking by night in order to commit theft, Wong could have been jailed up to 14 years, and fined.