Former Malaysian national swimmer Lim Ching Hwang was given eight weeks’ jail on Tuesday (9 Feb) for defaulting on his National Service (NS) obligations in Singapore.
The court heard that the 24-year-old athlete, who has won medals in regional competitions such as the Asian Youth Games, came to Singapore in 2010 and studied at the Singapore Sports School until 2013.
“The Singapore Government subsidised his education and training at S$25,000 per year under its Foreign Sports Scholarship Scheme,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor R Arvindren.
Lim was granted Singapore permanent residency (PR) status in March 2014 under the Foreign Sports Talent Scheme and became subject to the requirements of the Enlistment Act.
He received a notice to register for NS after being granted PR status in May 2014, but at the same time, he was also offered a scholarship by Malaysian conglomerate Sime Darby to pursue university studies in the United States (US) from September that year.
Lim registered for NS in May 2014 and was granted a deferment until May 2017 to pursue a diploma at Republic Polytechnic.
However, he did not complete his studies, and left Singapore in July 2014.
Lim’s family sought an NS deferment so he can pursue his university studies but failed, as the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) “does not usually grant deferment for university studies”, the court heard.
They continued to try applying for his deferment in 2014 and 2015 but did not produce the required bond for an exit permit to be issued to him.
In February 2015, Lim’s father was informed by the authorities that his son had to book a date for medical screening in preparation for his enlistment in NS, but he noted that his son would be renouncing his Singapore PR status.
The authorities then advised Lim’s father to contact the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) should his son wished to renounce his status.
Lim subsequently returned to Singapore on 2 June 2015.
“The accused admitted that he had complied with his medical screening… because he was worried that he would not be able to enter Singapore for the 2015 (SEA) Games… due to his Enlistment Act offences,” said DPP Arvindren.
Lim was medically graded fit for enlistment but left Singapore for the US on 7 July 2015, and continued to apply for deferment from NS.
The court heard that he failed to report for enlistment in November 2015, and a police gazette was issued against him.
In June 2018, Lim returned to Singapore after completing his university studies.
He enlisted in April 2019, and completed his NS on 2 February this year.
Earlier on Tuesday, Lim pleaded guilty to two charges of remaining outside of Singapore without a valid exit permit from July 2014 to June 2015 and from July 2015 to June 2018.
The prosecutor asked for at least two months’ jail, noting the duration of Lim’s offences, as well as his guilty plea and voluntary surrender.
Lim told the court that he deeply regrets the actions that he had committed “as a boy”, and decided to “come back to face the consequences as a man”.
He argued that he was “too focused on swimming”, and could not resist the temptation of a scholarship to study at a prestigious university.
Lim also noted that he should have nudged his parents more to put his exit permit in order, instead of listening to their ill advice to finish his studies before returning for NS.
“I want to tell all boys that it is beneficial to serve NS before finishing university as the leadership skills that young men are exposed to is nothing a university can teach,” he urged young men to look forward to NS, and to serve it diligently.
His sentence has been deferred to 23 February.
“No sense of loyalty”: netizens want Lim’s PR status to be revoked
Penning their thoughts under the comment section of CNA and TODAY’s Facebook posts, many netizens noted that Lim has shown “no sense of loyalty” to both Singapore and Malaysia, given that he has abandoned his NS obligations to pursue studies in the US.
Some even said that the jail sentence of eight weeks is “too lenient” for him, and called for the authorities to revoke his PR status instead.
Some users commented that Singapore invested in a foreign talent who took advantage of the system.