Money for 'Lee Kuan Yew' cheating trial: Ex-reporter takes stand, grilled on whether he spoke to accused
SINGAPORE: A reporter who wrote an article four years ago about a woman who allegedly cheated a petrol station pump attendant of his savings took the stand on Wednesday (May 22) and was accused of never interviewing the woman.
Former The New Paper (TNP) reporter Godwin Ng had written a report published on Feb 10, 2015, telling the story from the perspective of the accused, Tan Hwee Ngo, after interviewing her at her flat at Indus Road.
The article was written a day after his TNP colleague Judith Tan broke the news about the alleged scam.
Tan, 69, is facing 169 charges of allegedly cheating her friend, 74-year-old Tan Soy Kiang, of at least S$130,000 between 1999 and 2013.
She is accused of telling him that the money was "needed for Lee Kuan Yew" or "old Lee", and asking him to withdraw all S$53,000 he had in his CPF Savings account for her.
Tan allegedly asked the victim to give her a part of his salary monthly, and the payments were purportedly facilitated by the victim's good friend of many years, Madam Boo Sok Hiang. Mdm Boo died of heart disease a few months after giving a police statement in 2016.
TAN QUOTED IN ARTICLE ADMITTING TO CHEATING
The trial on Wednesday centered on whether former TNP reporter Mr Ng had interviewed the accused for his article.
He told the court that he had been assigned the story as a follow-up to his colleague's original story.
"On Feb 9 in 2015, TNP was the first media outlet to break this story," said Mr Ng. "It was written by my colleague Judith, I believe she was a friend of Pamela (the victim's niece)."
Tan was arrested after Ms Pamela Lim and her husband suspected something was wrong. The victim had been borrowing money from the couple despite working two jobs.
In Mr Ng's article, Tan allegedly admitted that she cheated the petrol station employee, but said she took only S$30,000 from him, adding that she had been driven by her mahjong gambling debt.
Tan's defence lawyer TM Sinnadurai showed Mr Ng copies of his reporter's notebook and questioned Mr Ng on how he came up with the questions to ask Tan, as well as whether he had referred to his colleague's previous story.
Explaining what he did on the day he interviewed her, Mr Ng said: "I went down to the address, knocked on the door and rang the doorbell. It was after lunch and just as I was about to walk away, I crossed paths with Tan who was returning back to her flat. I identified myself as a journalist from TNP and said I wanted to talk to her about this case."
FORMER REPORTER SAYS HE SPOKE TO ACCUSED AT THE DOOR
According to Mr Ng, Tan entered her flat and shut her gate. She then spoke to him through the metal gate for more than hour. A photographer who took many photos of Tan was also with him, Mr Ng said.
"My instructions are that she did not offer you an interview," said Mr Sinnadurai. "And she did not talk to you."
"You said you spoke to her for over an hour," he added. "My client's instructions are that she never spoke to any reporters for more than an hour. And she only spoke to two reporters (who were) from a Chinese newspaper."
He questioned Mr Ng, who was an intern at TNP at the time, on whether he could have mistaken Tan for Mdm Boo.
Mr Ng had told the court that another colleague had been tasked with interviewing Mdm Boo.
"Even her husband who was at home ... says that Tan did not give an interview to TNP, but only to two Chinese newspapers," added Mr Sinnadurai.
"I put it to you that since my instructions are that the accused did not give you an interview, the answers that you prepared ... were based on Judith's report," he asserted. "I put it to you that Tan didn't give you the information."
Mr Ng answered: "The information was what was conveyed to me by Tan during our conversation."
Other than Mr Ng, two reporters from Lianhe Wanbao will be called to the stand as the prosecution's witnesses.
If found guilty of cheating, Tan could be sentenced to a maximum of three years' jail per charge and fined.