A 27-year-old man was sentenced to five years and 10 months in jail and was given six strokes of the cane on Wednesday (23 December) after admitting to driving his female passengers to secluded areas and molesting them.
Muhammad Hafiz Maksah pleaded guilty to three counts of outraging the modesty of his passengers, with another two charges taken into consideration.
According to court documents, the man was suspended by the ride-hailing company Grab in August 2019.
However, Hafiz then opted to look for jobs on unregulated carpooling chat groups on Telegram while preying on female customers.
His heinous act started in October last year when a student named JC put up a request in chat group Ride Kakis (NTU) looking to commute to a church, the court documents stated.
Using the username @Rocket, Hafiz accepted the request and picked up the victim.
During the journey, she fell asleep, only to wake up to realise that Hafiz had made a detour and was going to a multi-storey car park.
This then prompted JC to ask Hafiz about the detour and he replied saying that he needed to pick something up.
Subsequently, the passenger informed her friends that she would be later for church before informing Hafiz that she needs to reach her destination fast as she was late.
Hafiz then told her that the errand will be quick and stopped the car in the corner of the car park.
JC then suspected something was wrong when he parked the car with almost no gap between the door and the wall, resulting in her sending multiple messages to a friend, saying: “OMG SAVE ME” and “IDK WHAT THIS HITCH IS DOING”.
She then gave him S$10 note to pay for the ride and wanted to leave, but Hafiz told her that he has no change and asked her to wait for his friend.
He then began molesting her. However, she managed to squeeze her way out of the car and escaped him.
She lodged a police complaint the next day and told the officer that she has since felt scared to sit in the front passenger seat in taxis. JC has also stopped soliciting Grab or other ride-sharing services by herself since.
Second victim forced to suck his toes
The second victim, addressed as MT in court documents, also used Hafiz’s driving services after finding him on Telegram chat group SG Hitch.
Her first ride with him in early October 2019 did not have any issues, which gave her the confidence to engage his services on other occasions, paying him S$10 per trip.
However, things took an ugly turn on 12 October last year. Based on court documents, MT did not have any qualms when Hafiz told her that he had to return his friend’s keys before driving her home.
He then drove her to a multi-storey car park in Jurong West and parked the car, pretending to wait for his friend. While waiting, he suggested playing a card game, where the loser will have to do five forfeits.
After completing two forfeits, MT refused to do any more forfeits. Hafiz then grabbed her arm and told her to go to the backseat, before taking away her phone. He told MT that her third forfeit was to kiss him on his lips.
She said no and tried to leave. MT got nervous and grabbed a piece of glass to cut her wrist, in an attempt to convince Hafiz to her go.
The man then locked the car doors, which then alarmed her and she began harming herself by pinching, burning her hand with a lighter and banging her head against the window.
Hafiz later pinned her down and told her: “I just want to have sex with you”.
In the end, he asked her to lick his toes to tick off the forfeits. Given that she wanted to leave, MT sucked each of his big toes for a minute.
He then dropped her back home, three hours after he picked her up. She made a police report and noted that she is now afraid to take rides alone and is more careful of people.
Auxiliary police cars drove past the van with third victim in it
As for the third victim — a student identified as SS — the court heard that Hafiz responded to a message she posted on Telegram chat group SG Hitch – Premium in March this year.
When SS got into his van, she realised that he was driving towards Sembawang and not to her home. When confronted, Hafiz said he was picking up another passenger.
He then drove to Jalan Selimang in Sembawang near a forested area at about 1.35 am.
SS realised that something was not right and texted her friend, sharing her live location and said she was “legit panicking” and scared.
Hafiz then drove to a nearby junction before molesting her as she was switching seats.
He also refused to take her to the main road so she could get another Grab ride home, saying that he was “lazy” and “tired”.
Later, two auxiliary police vehicles drove past, and Hafiz panicked seeing them. He then quickly drove SS out to the main road and dropped her off.
She made a police complaint the next day and said she is scared that Hafiz would appear at her address and is scared of taking cabs alone.
The prosecutor told the court that Hafiz is “a serial offender” and “a clear danger to the public”.
Commenting on MT’s case, Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran said that this was an “elaborated plot” as Hafiz deceived her and used a card game as a way to pressure her to perform sexual acts, including the “extremely degrading act of sucking his toes”.
Besides the three victims, DPP Sukumaran also pointed out that Hafiz molested a fourth victim –- which made up one of the charges taken into consideration.
Netizens question why police did not apprehend the perpetrator sooner
Commenting on the Facebook page of CNA, netizens said that their “blood boils” when reading about the incident, calling Hafiz “real maniac” and “pervert” who brings “disgrace” to other ride-share drivers in Singapore.
Others questioned why the police did not apprehend him earlier given that the victims have lodged police reports shortly after the sexual abuse took place.
They said that if the police have nabbed him after the first victim made a complaint, he would have not had the opportunity to molest the other victims.
Separately, a group of netizens opined that the punishment handed down to Hafiz was too “lenient”.
They said that he should have been given heavier sentencing for the “terror and suffering he put his victims through”.
Some online users also warned female passengers to not hire unregulated private-hire drivers.
They said that women travelling alone should pay a bit more and hire regular taxis for their own safety.
Others urged authorities to look into such unregulated private-hire drivers seeking passengers via Telegram groups and to ban such groups.