SINGAPORE, Aug 3 — When Joshua Lim Wei Kiat needed a place to hide from the law, he turned to his childhood friend Chia Wei Poh, who hid him in a suitcase in a bid to help his friend avoid detection by the police.
Yesterday, Chia, 32, was sentenced to 17 months’ jail after he pleaded guilty to a charge each of abetting Lim to commit housebreaking with the intention to steal, and harbouring a housebreaker (Lim) with the intention to hide him from legal punishment.
A charge each of abetting to commit housebreaking by night with the intention to steal, and voluntarily obstructing a police officer from carrying out an arrest, were taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Chong Kee En told the court that Lim, who is now 31, had previously been charged with breaking into a house at night to steal on Sept 12 in 2018.
Chia had agreed to stand bail of S$15,000 for his friend.
However, when Lim was due to attend court on Dec 6 that year, he failed to show up and a warrant of arrest was issued for him. This also caused Chia to forfeit S$5,000 of the bail amount.
Sometime in April the following year, Lim contacted Chia as he needed a place to stay.
DPP Chong said the fugitive told his friend that he had a newborn son, and that he wanted to pay off his credit card debts.
Lim also told Chia that he would work as a deliveryman to pay back the S$5,000 in bail that Chia had to forfeit.
Despite knowing that Lim was a wanted man, Chia took pity on his friend and allowed him to stay at his flat rent-free, and even gave him a clerical job at his moving and transportation business, said Chia’s defence lawyer Anil Singh Sandhu.
DPP Chong said that in June that year, Lim told Chia he wanted to commit more housebreaking as he was in need of cash.
It was not stated if Chia had tried to discourage Lim, but DPP Chong said Chia had driven Lim to meet a mutual friend, who suggested places Lim could burgle. Chia also went on to help his friend prepare for the break-ins by driving him to Mustafa Centre and accompanying him to buy the necessary equipment.
In one case highlighted by the prosecutor, Chia served as Lim’s getaway driver for a heist at a club in Boat Quay in the wee hours of June 24 in 2019.
When Chia later picked Lim up around the Chinatown area, he found out that his friend had managed to steal only S$25 from the club’s cash register.
DPP Chong said Chia was later required to make restitution of S$2,500 for the damage Lim had caused to the club’s property.
Lim was eventually traced to Chia’s flat, which the police visited on the evening of June 25, 2019.
However, the pair had already seen the police arrive from the flat’s balcony.
Lim wanted to escape by climbing down from the balcony by tying some bed sheets to the railing, said DPP Chong, but Chia was afraid his friend might fall and kill himself, and discouraged him from doing so.
Instead, Chia assisted Lim to hide in a luggage case, and even placed some items on top of it to prevent him from being detected.
All the while, the police had been banging on the door, and they were about to break it down when Chia and another tenant of the unit let them in.
When the police entered the flat, Chia initially denied Lim was there, but he later told them where his friend was hidden.
By this time, Lim had already been hiding in the luggage for about an hour, and he had to be warded at Changi General Hospital for a week due to numbness in his legs which prevented him from walking.
‘Pulled at heartstrings’
In pleading for leniency for his client, Mr Singh said Lim had “pulled at Chia’s heartstrings” when he promised he would turn over a new leaf and turn himself over to the authorities once he had paid off his wife’s credit card debts, and his wife was able to start working.
The debts, said Mr Singh, had been incurred by Lim to pay for his son’s needs and to sustain his family.
Mr Singh added that his client knew that if he turned Lim in to the authorities immediately, Lim’s infant son and wife would be rendered homeless. “In gist, Chia could not bring himself to be the cause of breaking up the young family,” said Mr Singh.
The lawyer, who sought a jail term of 15 months, added that Chia helped Lim with breaking into the club at Boat Quay only so that he could save Lim’s marriage from disintegration, and not for any financial gain.
Lim was sentenced to a total of four years and six months in jail, as well as four strokes of the cane, on July 17 last year. — TODAY