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Arrested and handcuffed for a S$30 offence

Leong Sze Hian

John (not his real name) is a Singaporean who has been working and living overseas with his family for a few years.

He received a call last Thursday from the new owners of his flat which he had sold in March. They informed him that they’ve received a warrant of arrest addressed to him.

He called the warrant enforcement unit (WEU) the next day (Friday), and was told to report to the WEU on Monday. Apparently, the matter was about his non-payment of a  traffic parking fine in a park, which we understand is a S$30 offence.

John, who had planned to visit Singapore anyway, then took the 7-hour flight back to Singapore over the weekend.

John told The Online Citizen what took place upon his return:

"I called NParks on Friday before my trip to find out more and see if I could come down and get this sorted out.  The reply I got from the officer was to just report to the police station as this is already a warrant of arrest case and is thus out of their hands.

When I reported to the WEU on Monday morning at 11.30, I was immediately put in handcuffs.

I was then transported to court in handcuffs at about 12.30. In court I was processed and put in a cell. That’s when the handcuffs came off.

Around 3pm I was escorted to chambers in handcuffs to stand before the judge. I had to post a personal bond of $1,000 before I was released. Only after signing the bail document were the handcuffs removed. I only left the court at about 5 in the evening.

The next day, I went to see NParks at 9am to sort this out. The head of the department and the officers were nice and understood what I went through.  The compound fine was $400, but they reduced it to $200. I paid and left.

I had to go back to court at 2.30 for the matter to be dropped and resolved.

According to John, he believes his address record may have been the problem, because in November 2006, when he did not receive his road tax from the Land Transport Authority (LTA), he had gone to the LTA to provide them with the correct address. But apparently, the wrong address was keyed into the LTA’s records.

He moved from his rental flat in December, 2006.

When he tried to explain to NParks about his address record being in error, it was explained to John that it was LTA that handles the address records of Singaporeans and that NParks was just using LTA's records.

From John's recollection of the events which transpired, is it possible that NParks sent the notice to the wrong address before November 2006, which resulted in John not receiving the summons which in turn resulted in him being arrested upon his return to Singapore?

Also, is it necessary for the authorities to subject “offenders” to such treatment (handcuffed and arrested and having to spend time in a hold-up), especially when apparently it is through no fault of their own that the summons were sent to the wrong address?

In this connection my home address has been used by a Singaporean as his mailing address, because he has  been working in another country for the last three years.

Recently, a letter arrived informing him that as he had not paid the TV license  fee of about twenty plus dollars for three months in 2007, he was summoned to appear in court. When the Media Development Authority (MDA) was contacted by telephone, the advice was that the matter could be settled by paying $198.81.

However, the MDA said that they could not just accept a cheque for the amount in the mail, and that one has to pay in person at the MDA’s office, with documentary proof that he has been working in another country.

Notwithstanding this, as he was not in Singapore, a cheque for the amount required, a  photocopy of his work visa in the foreign country and copies of the MDA letter, were mailed to MDA.

About  slightly more than two weeks, after the cheque was cleared by MDA, a warrant of arrest arrived.

So, copies of the cheque, work visa, MDA letter and the warrant of arrest were sent to both MDA and the Warrant Enforcement Unit, as the warrant of arrest stated that: “If you wish to make an appeal regarding the Warrant of Arrest issued against you, please send your appeal directly to the prosecuting agency for their consideration”.

More than six weeks have lapsed since the cheque was cleared by the MDA, but there has been no correspondence at all from the MDA, not even an acknowledgement of receipt for the cheque payment cleared.

So, will he be arrested when he next returns to Singapore?

Finally, as I understand that hundreds of people are charged almost every week at the night courts for failure to pay traffic fines, Service and Conservancy Charges (S & CC), TV licence, etc, how many Singaporeans have been charged in court and served with warrants of arrest?

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Picture from jmplawyers.