SAF captain charged over death of NSF Liu Kai; 5 others charged with leaking photos of incident

Regular serviceman Ong Lin Jie, 28, a captain, was charged with doing a rash act causing death.
Regular serviceman Ong Lin Jie, 28, a captain, was charged with doing a rash act causing death.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Corporal First Class Liu Kai died after his Land Rover was mounted by a reversing Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle on Nov 3 last year during a field training exercise.
Corporal First Class Liu Kai died after his Land Rover was mounted by a reversing Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle on Nov 3 last year during a field training exercise.PHOTO: MINDEF

SINGAPORE - A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) officer was charged on Friday (Oct 25) in relation to the death last year of full-time national serviceman (NSF) Liu Kai, who was driving a Land Rover commanded by him.

Regular serviceman Ong Lin Jie, 28, a captain, was charged with doing a rash act causing death.

Court documents say he had allegedly failed to keep a safety distance of 30m between the Land Rover and a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which had reversed and mounted the driver's side of the Land Rover during a training exercise at Murai Urban Training Facility on Nov 3.

Corporal First Class (CFC) Liu, 22, a transport operator from SAF's Transport Hub West, died after the Land Rover he was driving was mounted by the Bionix despite repeated commands by the rear guide to stop the Bionix.

If convicted, Ong could be jailed for up to five years or fined, or both.

Five others were charged over the wrongful communication of official information under section 5(1) of the Official Secrets Act.

Two of them, Muhammad Arif Azman and Mohamad Haikal Mohamad Zainal Abiddin - who were doing their national service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and were at the scene - took photographs of the incident and disseminated them via WhatsApp.


Muhammad Arif Azman (top, left) and Mohamad Haikal Mohammad Zainal Abiddin (top, right) allegedly took photos and shared them, while Brandon Tan Jien Jet (bottom, left), Thng Yu Xuan (bottom, right) and Muhammad Zaki Haji Mokhtar (not pictured) are accused of having shared them further. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Three others received the photographs and, despite knowing that the photographs were sensitive official information, shared them further without authorisation. They are Brandon Tan Jien Jet, Thng Yu Xuan and Muhammad Zaki Haji Mokhtar.

The SCDF said in a statement on Friday that internal investigations were conducted to identify the officers responsible for leaking the photos of the accident.

“We filed a police report on Nov 4, 2018 against five full-time national servicemen who were involved. The NSFs were immediately redeployed to non-frontline duties while police investigations were ongoing.

“All five NSFs have since completed their full-time national service.”

SCDF said it expects its officers to uphold exemplary standards of conduct, integrity, and discipline at all times.

“We have strict rules to safeguard official information and view any breach seriously. Any officer who commits offences will be dealt with in accordance with the law.” 

Preliminary findings on CFC Liu's incident shared by Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in February showed that the Bionix did not stop reversing despite repeated commands for its driver to do so. It stopped only after mounting the driver's side of the Land Rover.

CFC Liu was then driving Ong from the Active Unit Training Centre, as he was assigned to evaluate the exercise troops. The 42nd Battalion Singapore Armoured Regiment (42 SAR) was conducting a two-sided company mission exercise there.

During the exercise, the Bionix stopped after it spotted several vehicles involved in the exercise passing a junction ahead of it, according to the preliminary findings of the independent Committee of Inquiry (COI) formed to look into the circumstances of the incident.

The Land Rover, which was following the Bionix to assess the crew's performance in the exercise, stopped some distance behind it.

 
 
 

Ong then allegedly instructed CFC Liu to overtake the Bionix, and as the latter moved forward slowly, he heard shots fired as part of the exercise.

CFC Liu then stopped the Land Rover at a maximum distance of 19.8m from the Bionix.

This was short of the 30m safe distance stated in the training safety regulations, said Dr Ng then, adding that the COI noted that it was the responsibility of the Land Rover's vehicle commander to ensure the safety distance.

Safety measures were introduced following the incident. These included having a rear-view camera on the back of the Bionix vehicle.

More experienced and regular trainers were added on the ground to supervise and train national servicemen. They will no longer just be in Land Rovers or other "soft skin" vehicles, but will be required to be in the combat vehicles with the trainees during training, added Dr Ng in February.

The case had cast the spotlight on deaths in the SAF. It was the third of four training-related deaths in the SAF since September 2017.

The Ministry of Defence in a statement on Friday said Ong has been suspended from service pending the outcome of the court proceedings, adding that the ministry is conducting its own internal investigation to determine if there have been breaches of military law by other individuals.