Nikkei commentary on KTV outbreak 'full of inaccuracies': MHA official

A screenshot of a recent opinion piece published by Nikkei Asia on the Government's handling of the Covid-19 cluster.
A screenshot of a recent opinion piece published by Nikkei Asia on the Government's handling of the Covid-19 cluster.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM ASIA.NIKKEI.COM

SINGAPORE - A recent opinion piece published by Nikkei Asia on the Government's handling of the Covid-19 cluster linked to KTVs was "full of inaccuracies", said a senior director from the Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday (July 28).

In the rebuttal sent to the media, Mr Sam Tee from the Joint Operations Group said it was false for the article - titled The Institutional Failures Behind Singapore's Latest Covid Outbreak - to claim that most KTVs in Singapore are fronts for money laundering or illegal brothels run by organised crime cartels.

He said it was also false that KTVs were allowed to open "without explanation", as was alleged in the piece by Mr Andy Wong, which was published on the financial news agency's website last Friday.

Mr Tee said that the KTV cluster has been "swiftly contained", with about five new cases linked to it each day from last Thursday to Monday, and is still declining.

"The cluster was not the reason why the Government reimposed stricter safe distancing measures on July 22. A spread into fresh food markets which had the potential for a wider outbreak was the reason," he said.

Mr Tee added: "Your correspondent's stance appears to be based on a stern disapproval of illegal sexual activity. We commend his high moral expectations. But his comments on public policies need to be based on facts, not imagined realities."

Mr Wong, 28, was also one of four men were charged in court on Wednesday morning for their involvement in running a Telegram group containing leaked sexual videos and images of women.

In the opinion piece, Mr Wong said the KTV cluster - currently linked to more than 200 cases - "exposed the pernicious role of organised vice enterprises in Singapore, and the institutional failure of the country's much-vaunted law enforcement to clamp down on them".

The piece also questioned whether such KTVs should have been allowed to convert to food establishments, and said there was an "evident border policy loophole" with foreign sex workers being allowed to enter the country by falsely claiming familial ties.

On the claim that KTVs are fronts run by organised crime cartels, Mr Tee said that Singapore has laws against organised crime, money laundering, and trafficking-in-persons.

"Singapore is one of the least likely places in the world to find organised crime syndicates running operations," he said, noting that the 2020 Gallup Global Law and Order Report has ranked the country first for law and order for the seventh year in a row.

"The Government is aware that sex workers visit KTVs (and other places) to solicit patrons. We cannot prevent people meeting in these places. But any sexual activity in these premises will be a breach of licensing conditions," he added.

Such breaches are dealt with via regular enforcement, he said, adding that from 2018 to last year, the police checked nearly 3,000 nightlife outlets, and arrested more than 1,000 people.

"We welcome visitors to Singapore, but are aware that some seek entry for purposes of prostitution. This is not allowed under our entry conditions. While we take all efforts to turn away dubious travellers, there is no foolproof way of determining this upfront," said Mr Tee.

On the allegation that KTVs were allowed to reopen without explanation, Mr Tee said the Government had explained the considerations in allowing some to reopen, although not as KTVs but as food and beverage outlets.

Nightlife activities had been disallowed since March last year.

"The Government also made public statements to announce their reopening in November 2020 (with certain conditions). Your correspondent made sweeping statements, without basic checks."

Contrary to Mr Wong's claim that the Government had belatedly increased punitive raids on KTVs, there had been regular enforcement, said Mr Tee.

Since October last year, the police has conducted more than 200 operations, in addition to those by other agencies. Several of these were widely publicised when the lawbreakers were taken to court, he said.

Mr Tee noted that Mr Wong - who was described as a political and business intelligence analyst based in Singapore in the article - wrote that the "Boyfriend/Girlfriend" category was removed from the Familial Ties Lane for immigration abruptly without explanation.

Mr Tee said that earlier this month, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the police gave details of why this category was introduced and subsequently removed, as well as the enforcement operations that were undertaken.

Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Monday that the abuse of the category in applications for Vietnamese nationals to come into Singapore as partners of locals resulted in its removal.