On Thursday (29 January), Yang Kaiheng, the ex-owner of socio-political site The Real Singapore (TRS), took to his Facebook to talk about the discrimination that he recently faced as an ex-convict in Singapore.
In the post, Yang, who currently owns a ramen restaurant called Takagi Ramen, accuses the CEO of The Ministry of Food (MOF), Lena Sim, of discrimination after the latter failed to return the deposit that he paid for a lease.
It appears that Yang first submitted a Letter of Intent (LOI) to MOF last month as he wanted to rent a unit at Clementi Mall in order to open Takagi Ramen’s 5th outlet in April this year. He added that he even handed over a goodwill deposit amounting to S$16,000 to MOF via a property agent called Aaron Siow.
However, it turned out that MOF could not fulfill the terms requested in the LOI, Yang said in his post, which has since gone viral with over 1,000 shares.
“Despite accepting the LOI and banking in my cheque, it turned out MOF was unable to give the terms requested in the LOI. (We had requested a fresh lease with the mall, as the sublease from MOF would only last 1.5 years and would be void suddenly if MOF moved out,” he explained.
He added, “Since MOF couldn’t grant this, according to the LOI, MOF should have immediately refunded the goodwill deposit.”
Unfortunately, Yang highlighted that MOF “delayed and dragged and repeatedly missed deadlines to refund the money”.
This then prompted Yang to lodge a police report after MOF, a restaurant chain company founded in 2006 that specialises in Japanese cuisine, missed three deadlines and failed to return his goodwill deposit even after three weeks.
He added that he also emailed Ms Sim once again and firmly requested for his deposit to be returned.
“Instead of simply refunding the deposit money which by this stage undisputedly, legally belongs to Takagi Ramen, Ms Sim penned a scathing email, digging up my case from 5 years ago and using it to label me, today, as a serial liar,” he wrote.
He continued, “She clearly suggested that ex-cons are incapable of changing and sent the email to the mall landlord, who also owns several other mall spaces that I am interested to expand to in the near future.”
“Her email demonstrates her bias and disgust towards ex-cons and I can only hope that the mall landlord does not reject me from other leasing opportunities in their malls in the future due to Lena’s discriminatory email.”
In 2016, Yang was sentenced to eight months in jail after he pleaded guilty of sedition. He admitted to deliberately sowing disagreement between Singaporeans and foreigners via a series of articles on the socio-political website. The articles in the website allegedly promoted ill will and hostility between different races and classes in the country.
His wife Ai Takagi, who was the editor of the site, was sentenced to a 10-month jail term on four charges of sedition over the publication of articles promoting racial hatred she pleaded guilty to four of the seven counts of sedition charges.
“While it is clear that Ms Lena Sim from Ministry of Food holds a highly discriminatory opinion of ex-cons and myself, my conscience is clear. I am running an honest business with Takagi Ramen,” he said, adding that he sells quality ramen dishes priced relatively low to serve average Singaporeans.
He added that he even started TRS with the “naïve purpose of promoting free speech” and not to “stir hatred”.
Email response by Ms Lim
In Yang’s post, he attached an email reply by Ms Lim explaining why she rejected to the lease applied by his company. The email was originally sent to the property agent (Mr Siow) who then forwarded it to Yang.
In the email, she stated that she was horrified when she found out about the background of Takagi Ramen’s owners, and called them “serial liars”.
“No wonder they are aggressive, unreasonable, threatening and even abusive. I have no discrimination. But I do not want to have any dealings with this young couple,” she wrote.
She added, “What I can see clearly is that this is a dishonest couple, having no qualms of infringing what belongs to others, and then lied in their defence. This was unfortunately exposed and they reaped their own fruits. Without learning from the mistakes they made previously, they did not disclose anything about the feud with SPH before committing in the LOI with you.”
As such, Ms Sim noted that she will now arrange the S$16,000 to the escrow, managed by her lawyer. If Yang wants the sum to be repaid, his company has to “sign a letter/doc for the full settlement without prejudice”.
As a response to this, Yang said that “digging up what happened with TRS over 5 years ago and suggesting that this is the same me today is simply not true.”
He added that he has started TRS again with a new name called The Royal Singapore in order to “share motivational and inspiring stories of average Singaporeans, to spread positivity and shine light on the good thing happening around us”.
Based on what has happened to him with this whole situation, Yang agrees that ex-convicts do face discrimination.
“When I read this scathing, hatred filled email written by someone who actually owes me money, it cut deep and it was the first time I had experienced such discrimination so openly and so directly,” he noted.
He went on to say that, “Even though you know in the back of your mind that people quietly choose not to work with you, the hurt is so much worse when it is penned so clearly and in your face. I was just trying to get my goodwill deposit back but was slapped in the face with this instead, and to date, the money has still not been returned.”
Yang expressed that all the good work put out by Yellow Ribbon and other similar organisations in dealing with discrimination is “simply another hurdle that ex-cons need to overcome to get back on track”.
“To all my friends who I got to know in Prison, we should take such hurdles as positive challenges. Each hurdle we overcome is another testament to our determination to lead a better life. Don’t lose your way just because a few people put you down or label you for what you did in the past. You are certainly still entitled to your rights,” he wrote at the end of his post.
In response to this, Ms Sim told TOC that the “Ministry of Food denies the allegations made in the Facebook post” by Yang.
She added that, “The matter is now being handled by MOF’s lawyers. It is therefore not appropriate for me to comment further publicly as MOF’s lawyers will be doing the necessary. In this regard, both MOH and I reserve all our rights to take whatever legal action against any party we deem fit to protect our rights.”