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photo: channelnewsasia

Thai national who lost Singapore citizenship fined S$6,000 for defaulting on National Service obligations

24-year-old Thai-born Ekawit Tangtrakarn was sentenced to a fine of S$6,000 yesterday (18 Sep) for defaulting on his National Service (NS) obligations, marking the first prosecution of an NS defaulter who is no longer a Singapore citizen.

Previously on 28 Aug, Ekawit pleaded guilty under the Enlistment Act for staying outside Singapore without a valid exit permit for 5½ years.

It was reported that Ekawit was registered as a Singapore citizen when he was one year old. However, he lost his Singapore citizenship upon failing to take the Oath of Renunciation, Allegiance and Loyalty (ORAL) on 17 Oct 2015, within a year after he had turned 21.

A foreign national minor who wishes to retain his Singapore citizenship is required to renounce his foreign citizenship within 12 months of reaching 21 years old, including minors who have acquired citizenship by descent or registration, as Singapore does not allow dual citizenships.

District Judge John Ng ruled that "a custodial sentence" is "not the appropriate sentence to punish Ekawit" in this particular case.

Justice Ng reasoned that Ekawit is "first and foremost a Thai national or citizen before anything else," as evidenced in Ekawit's completion of the mandatory military service in the Royal Thai Army, which was confirmed in an official letter from the Thai embassy.

"It is incorrect to see Ekawit as a Singaporean boy who had stayed away from Singapore to escape performing NS, or in order to pursue his studies and only returning to serve NS at a time of his choosing," said Justice Ng.

"Ekawit's situation is different from someone who wants to leave Singapore to become a citizen of a foreign country without fulfilling his NS duties."

He highlighted that Ekawit was born and raised in Thailand, and thus it has always been reasonable for him to pledge allegiance to Thailand, particularly considering that he has never lived in Singapore.

“He had always remained rooted to his country of origin and domicile — Thailand,” said Justice Ng.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mansoor Amir noted before the court that according to the Ministry of Defence that Ekawit's case is the first one in which a NS defaulter had returned to Singapore to face his charge after he was no longer eligible to serve NS due to being neither a Singaporean nor a permanent resident.

On behalf of Ekawit's family, defence lawyer S. Radakrishnan said that Ekawit’s mother, Genevieve Lim, was grateful that Justice Ng had delivered what she believed to be a fair sentence to his son, and she has expressed relief that "the ordeal is over".

Ekawit and his family will return to Bangkok as soon as his passport is returned, added Mr Radakrishnan.

Previously, Ekawit had travelled to Singapore several times to visit his maternal grandmother, and had used his Thai passport on almost every visit. His last visit to Singapore, prior to the trial, was in Oct 2003 during his birthday week.

DPP Mansoor highlighted that Ekawit had surrendered himself and his Thai passport voluntarily for the trial, and that one of the reasons for Ekawit's return was to prevent any future issues that might arise should he need to travel to Singapore again in the future.

Ekawit was born in Thailand to a Singaporean mother and a Thai father in 1993. He was then registered as a Singapore citizen a year later.

On 7 Aug 2006, Madam Lim had requested a NS deferment on behalf of Ekawit from the Central Manpower Base (CMPB) via email until he reached 21 years of age, as Ekawit told her that he would like to continue his education in Thailand.

However the CMPB wrote to Madam Lim in Bangkok in October the same year to inform her that it was not possible for them to grant the deferment, and that a Singaporean male aged between 13 and 16½ years intends to travel or remain outside Singapore for three months or longer, he has to apply for an exit permit.

The CMPB added that if Ekawit intends to remain outside Singapore for two years or longer, his parents would need to pay a bond via a bank guarantee for a minimum sum of $75,000, or 50 per cent of their combined annual gross income for the preceding year, whichever is higher.

Madam Lim however replied that she did not have sufficient funds for the bond. The CMPB continued to correspond with her after that, and in Nov 2014, it sent her an e-mail informing her that her son was liable for NS, and that he had been charged for remaining outside Singapore without a valid exit permit and for defaulting on his NS obligations under the Enlistment Act.

Ekawit, an engineer, obtained his degree at Bangkok’s Thammasat University in May 2016 before returning to Singapore in relation to his NS-related offences.

Originally, Ekawit could have been sentenced to up to three years of jail and/or a fine of up to S$10,000 under the Enlistment Act.