High Court restores original, more serious charges for SCDF commanders in fatal ragging case

Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon (left) and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi.
Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon (left) and his deputy Nazhan Mohamed Nazi.ST PHOTOS: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - Two commanders from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), convicted on reduced charges in the 2018 ragging death case, will face their original, more serious charges, following a decision by the High Court.

On Monday (April 5), Justice See Kee Oon ruled that former Tuas View Fire Station rota commander Kenneth Chong Chee Boon, 40, and his deputy, Nazhan Mohamed Nazi, 42, were guilty of intentionally aiding servicemen to cause grievous hurt to Corporal Kok Yuen Chin by a rash act which endangered human life.

Cpl Kok, who was 22, drowned in a pump well during the ragging incident in May 2018.

The men of Rota 3 of Tuas View Fire Station had gathered to celebrate Cpl Kok’s impending completion of national service. 

He was pressured to enter the 12m-deep pump well at the fire station as part of a ragging activity known as "kolam", despite not being able to swim. He was later carried to and pushed into the well. 

When he did not surface, a few servicemen entered the well but could not locate him. 

Cpl Kok was found in the well more than half an hour later, and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. 

His last words before being pushed into the well had been "cannot, encik".

Aside from Chong and Nazhan, three other SCDF regulars who were their subordinates, have been convicted and sentenced in relation to Cpl Kok’s death. 

Muhammad Nur Fatwa Mahmood, who admitted to the fatal push, was jailed for a year and four weeks, while Mohamed Farid Mohd Saleh was jailed for 13 months for instigating him. Adighazali Suhaimi was jailed for a month for deleting video footage of the incident captured on his mobile phone. 

In September last year, Chong and Nazhan were each sentenced to 10 weeks’ jail after they were convicted on reduced charges of negligence rather than a rash act.

Senior District Judge Ong Hian Sun had said then that they had been "grossly negligent" in failing to prevent their subordinates from carrying out the ragging activity.

But in his oral remarks on Monday, Justice See said Judge Ong had erred in finding that the prosecution had failed to prove the more serious charges against the two accused persons, and that the original charges had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

"It was not disputed by either (of the accused) that they owed a duty of care to Cpl Kok," he said. "The inescapable inference was that they had consciously chosen not to stop the 'kolam', thus giving a clear sanction for the activity to continue, with knowledge of the risks associated." 

Corporal Kok Yuen Chin died after he was found unconscious inside a pump well at Tuas View Fire Station, on May 13, 2018. PHOTOS: LIANHE WANBAO, SINGAPORE CIVIL DEFENCE FORCE

He added that choosing to ignore the risks or to trivialise the possible dangers constituted a rash act. "Their conscious and deliberate inaction was a clear sanction for the servicemen to carry on with the activity," said Justice See. 

He allowed the prosecution's appeals and convicted both the accused, and will hear submissions on sentencing and their mitigation pleas at a later date.

For abetting the causing of grievous hurt by a rash act, the commanders could be jailed for up to four years, or fined up to $10,000, or both.

The reduced charges for a negligent act, which have now been overruled, carried a maximum jail term of up to three months and a fine of up to $1,500.