Kevin Kwan wanted for defaulting on NS obligations

Mindef says author of Crazy Rich Asians failed to register despite reminders, stayed overseas without exit permit

Author Kevin Kwan (far right), with actors Henry Golding and Constance Wu, at the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians in Hollywood, California, on Aug 7.
Author Kevin Kwan (right), with actors Henry Golding and Constance Wu, at the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians in Hollywood, California, on Aug 7. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Singapore-born writer Kevin Kwan, whose best-selling book inspired the movie Crazy Rich Asians, defaulted on his national service obligations, the Ministry of Defence said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

"Mr Kevin Kwan failed to register for national service (NS) in 1990, despite notices and letters sent to his overseas address," the ministry said yesterday.

"He also stayed overseas without a valid exit permit. Mr Kwan is therefore wanted for defaulting on his NS obligations."

Mindef added: "In 1994, his application and subsequent appeal to renounce his Singapore citizenship without serving NS were rejected."

Under the Enlistment Act, Mr Kwan is liable for a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to three years if convicted.

Mr Kwan, 44, who lives in the United States and now has US citizenship, did not respond to The Straits Times' recent requests for an interview. He was last interviewed by ST last year.

The writer was a conspicuous absence at the red carpet premiere of the movie at Capitol Theatre on Tuesday night that featured nearly every Singaporean cast member.

Apart from writing the book that spawned the movie, Mr Kwan is also credited as an executive producer.

He attended the premiere of the movie in the US.

Crazy Rich Asians, which was filmed in large part in Singapore, featured nearly 300 crew members who are Singaporean or Singapore permanent residents.

It has been hailed as a breakthrough for racial representation in Hollywood and as a good showcase for Singapore.

The movie has also received support from the likes of the Singapore Film Commission and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

The commission had, among other things, facilitated filming at various Singapore locations and provided a production assistance grant.

Asked when it became aware of Mr Kwan's NS status and whether it was a consideration in its decision to support the film, STB did not address questions on the author yesterday.

It would say only that it is working with film distributors Warner Bros to organise marketing activities around the film and that it sees the movie as "a natural opening to pique viewers' interest in visiting Singapore".

"We expect the exposure from the movie to help bring greater global awareness of our destination and this could potentially attract more visitors over time.

"Moreover, the movie has profiled Singapore's talents, including the huge cast and crew who were involved in the production," STB added.

Mr Kwan migrated at age 11 to Texas in the US with his engineer father, piano-teacher mother and two older brothers.

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Film correspondent John Lui speaks to Crazy Rich Asians star Henry Golding, director Jon Chu and producer John Penotti about that epic wedding scene at Gardens by the Bay and whether Asians will take to the film as well as American audiences.

In Singapore, he grew up in a multi-generational family home in Bukit Timah and attended Anglo-Chinese School (Primary).

In an interview with The Straits Times last year, he said he does not return to Singapore often, although when he does, he goes in search of good wonton mee, which he said was impossible to find in New York.

It is not known when Mr Kwan, who is based in New York, last visited Singapore.

Mr Kwan's grandfather is Singapore's first Western-trained ophthalmologist Arthur Kwan, who was for many years the commissioner of the St John Ambulance Brigade and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

Dr Kwan shared a clinic with his brother-in-law, Dr Hu Tsai Kuen, father of Singapore's longest-serving finance minister, Dr Richard Hu.

Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singapore citizens and permanent residents are liable for NS.

Should Mr Kwan return to Singapore, he could become the latest defaulter to be dealt with under the more stringent sentencing benchmarks laid out by the courts last year.

The grounds of decision were related to the cases of three defaulters, who were given heavier sentences in April last year.

Earlier this month, while addressing questions about footballer Ben Davis' request for deferment of his NS, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said that 13 NS defaulters have been prosecuted under the new framework.

Dr Ng stressed that the Enlistment Act is blind to "personal convenience and considerations".

"In court, each gave reasons why he did not enlist as required.

"Some wanted to complete their university degree first before NS... At the core of the Enlistment Act, the critical national need for a strong defence puts aside personal pursuits and mandates that each liable male performs his NS when required," he said.

There have been other high-profile NS dodging cases in recent years.

Last year, two sons of Senior Counsel Tan Chee Meng were jailed for defaulting on their NS obligations.

The younger son was sentenced to 12 weeks' jail for evading NS for about six years, while the elder son was sentenced to 16 weeks' jail for a similar offence involving a 10-year default period.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2018, with the headline Kevin Kwan wanted for defaulting on NS obligations. Subscribe