SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - He went to Bangkok to watch a football match and made plans to meet his nephew.
But former S-League footballer Sivaneswaran Ramalingam, 29, failed to turn up for their meeting last Friday.
Yesterday, Mr Rajandran Ramasamy, 64, told The New Paper that he later found out to his horror that his Bangkok-based nephew had been killed on Saturday after a dispute with his live-in Belgian girlfriend of five years, Ms Sarah Gieghase.
The alleged killer was another Belgian — her business partner — whom Mr Rajandran knew only as “Kevin”.
Yesterday, in a phone interview from Bangkok, a Thai police officer told TNP that Kevin is Ms Gieghase’s former husband.
The officer, who declined to be named, added that Kevin had been arrested for committing grievous hurt, not murder, as he had not intended to kill Mr Sivaneswaran.
He said the incident was sparked by a domestic dispute in the couple’s condominium apartment during which Mr Sivaneswaran was violent towards Ms Gieghase.
Kevin and a friend showed up at the apartment after Ms Gieghase called her parents for help.
The officer said Kevin intervened by restraining Mr Sivaneswaran in a chokehold, but he had not meant to kill him, only to subdue him.
When police officers arrived at the apartment, Kevin was still holding on to Mr Sivaneswaran’s neck, he added.
The officer also said Ms Gieghase had wanted to separate from Mr Sivaneswaran since October last year.
According to Singapore’s National Environment Agency’s permit to cremate Mr Sivaneswaran’s body, he had died of strangulation.
Mr Rajandran, who is self-employed, expressed concerns over the circumstances surrounding his nephew’s death.
He told TNP at the wake in Bishan before Mr Sivaneswaran’s cremation yesterday: “How can it not be murder? My nephew has been killed. I don’t think Siva was violent towards Sarah. I know my nephew.
“He’s not a violent man and they have a three-year-old son together. They were a loving couple and she even came to Singapore in April to celebrate the wedding of Siva’s brother.”
Mr Sivaneswaran was an S-League footballer with Sengkang Punggol (now Hougang United) in 2010. He joined Thai Premier League side Chonburi FC at the end of the season that year.
Mr Rajandran said he last spoke to his nephew last Thursday evening just before flying to Bangkok, and that Mr Sivaneswaran had promised to meet him the next day.
He waited for him at a football stadium and became worried when he failed to show up.
Early on Saturday, his brother, who is Mr Sivaneswaran’s father, called from Singapore to say that his nephew was in trouble.
“My brother told me that my nephew could even be dead. I rushed to his condo. It was like a nightmare,” he said.
At the ground floor, he met Ms Gieghase, who tearfully told him: “The body has just left.”
She told him that they had a misunderstanding that morning.
Mr Rajandran said: “She told me that she phoned her parents when Siva tried to assault her. The parents then called Kevin and another Belgian man for help.
“Sarah said she let them into the condo and then left the apartment. She said she didn’t know what exactly happened next. She later called Siva’s father, who then phoned me.”
Mr Rajandran said Mr Sivaneswaran’s father flew to Bangkok that morning with another son to arrange for his body to be brought home on Sunday.
More than 100 people paid their final respects to Mr Sivaneswaran at the wake yesterday afternoon.
His family members were too busy with the final rites to be interviewed. Ms Gieghase and her son did not attend the funeral.
One mourner, Mr Ashley Ow, 30, said he was shocked to learn of the tragedy from his friends on Saturday morning.
The former Young Lions player said: “Siva was my best friend. I’ve known him since 2001 when we were with Sembawang Rangers. He was a very nice guy — jovial and easy-going.”
Mr Ow said he had met Ms Gieghase many times and understands that she is still married to Kevin.
“She’s a nice lady — very pleasant. I’ve met Kevin once before but we didn’t talk.”
Asked if he was aware of Mr Sivaneswaran’s purported violence towards Ms Gieghase, he replied: “I’ve never seen him violent towards anyone. It’s totally out of character for him to be violent.”
Mr Rajandran said he was told that Kevin had been released on bail of about one million baht (S$39,000).
He said: “I’m unhappy about this and I expect justice to be served. My nephew is dead and he didn’t deserve to die this way.”
Passionate footballer with lots of potential
Mr Sivaneswaran Ramalingam was so determined to make it as a professional footballer that he ventured out to Thailand as a 15-year-old.
This was so that he could train under former Thai national coach Withaya Laohakul, the first Thai footballer to play for a European club — German Bundesliga side Hertha Berlin — from 1979 to 1981.
Mr Withaya, who is now the Football Association of Thailand’s vice-president and technical director, fondly remembers the day the young centre back asked if he could take him to Thailand.
“I was surprised that he was so passionate about football at such a young age, that he was willing to train in another country for a long period,” the 62-year-old, who later coached the under-16 and under-18 teams of former S-League club Sembawang Rangers, told The New Paper in a phone interview from Bangkok.
In a 2011 interview with website Bolasepako, Mr Sivaneswaran had said: “With Sembawang, we were the under-16 champions in Singapore, but we lost 4-0 to this Thai team (Princess Chulabhorn’s Football Academy) coached by Withaya Laohakul.
“Immediately after the game, I told coach Withaya my intention to play under him and he made the necessary arrangements for me to be there.”
Speaking about his determination to fulfil his ambition, he added: “It’s going to be hard for anyone to leave their country and go to a place where food, language, culture or maybe even weather is so different from Singapore.
“But what’s the point of sitting comfortably?”
Under Mr Withaya’s tutelage, Mr Sivaneswaran spent 1½ years during his first stint in Thailand and became fluent in Thai.
In 2005, he returned home and was called up for the National Football Academy (NFA) Under-18s under current national football coach V. Sundramoorthy.
The 50-year-old said: “He was very hardworking and would work with Withaya before he came for NFA training. Siva had the right attitude and put in a lot of hours as he wanted to be the best footballer he could be.
“His father was also very supportive of his football dreams. Siva had a good physique for a centre back, and at that young age, he was almost as tall as Baihakki Khaizan (a national defender who is 1.9m).
“At that age, he had the makings of a footballer who could go far.”
Mr Sivaneswaran’s NFA Under-18 teammate Shahdan Sulaiman, who went on to play for the national team, added: “We used to go to Thailand for pre-season training, and it was funny to see a non-Thai who could speak Thai so well.
“That was the Siva I knew — a joker and someone who was outspoken. Training was never quiet or dull with him around.”
After completing his national service in 2008, Mr Sivaneswaran headed north again and through Mr Withaya’s connections, signed on with second-tier Thai club Airways Ban Bueng FC.
He flew home the following year to spend more time with his ailing grandmother before joining S-League side Sengkang Punggol (now renamed Hougang United) in 2010.
However, he spent most of the season warming the bench and decided to reunite with Mr Withaya at Thai Premier League side Chonburi FC at the end of the 2010 season.
Around this time, Thai footballer Therdsak Chaiman had just joined Chonburi FC.
The 42-year-old said: “I remember him well because he spoke Thai very well. He was very nice and friendly off the pitch, and he was a strong player on the field.”
In a bid to get more playing time, Mr Sivaneswaran dropped a division and went on loan at Amnat FC.
“Eventually, Siva did not become a top-level footballer, but that did not stop him from giving his best and trying,” said Mr Withaya.
“Throughout my time working with him, he was ambitious and professional. I’m very sad to hear about the bad news, but I will remember him for all the good qualities he had.”