SINGAPORE — An owner of a bubble tea shop claimed trial on Tuesday (13 October) to molesting two female employees he hired at a now-defunct outlet.
Tan Kah Heng, 55, is accused of touching the buttocks of two girls, then 16 and 17, while they worked at his store, located in an MRT Station. Tan however, rebutted the allegations by accusing the two of colluding to frame him, in a trial which opened on Tuesday.
The Singaporean is contesting nine charges of molest against the two girls in 2017. Three of these accuse Tan of molesting the 16-year-old girl by touching her buttocks on one occasion in November 2017, and smacking her buttocks as well as hugging her body from behind on 12 November 2017. The remaining charges relate to Tan brushing the 17-year-old girl’s buttocks six times in the same month.
Opening the trial, Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Koh led evidence from the 16-year-old victim, who testified that she was hired to work at the bubble tea shop by Tan in October 2017 – a month before the alleged offences.
The girl said that she had found the job through an online advertisement and contacted Tan. She later introduced the 17-year-old victim, who was her secondary school friend, to the same job.
Girl initially thought contact was “accidental”
Paid $9 an hour, the 16-year-old girl’s job included making drinks and handling the cashier. While alone in the shop with Tan one afternoon in November, the girl recalled Tan grabbing her buttock through her shorts as he passed by her.
“I was very taken aback but I thought it was an accident, I didn’t do anything about it, I just continued making the drinks,” she testified.
She added that she thought the contact was accidental as it was “very brief”.
“I thought if I said anything, it would come off wrongly. If I make it sound like an issue. (I) was scared cause it’s my boss so I didn’t think much of it,” she added.
After the incident, Tan allegedly began giving the victim pet names via text.
“I didn’t like it, he always called me ‘baby’ and I told him not to, I called him out once and... I told him you should call me by name, it’s not professional,” she said, recalling that Tan had simply laughed off her concern.
The second incident occurred after the victim made a new drink at the bar area. Tan allegedly told her the drink was good before slapping and grabbing her buttock. The girl said she felt shocked and violated but had “no guts to tell him anything about it” as Tan was her boss.
Later that day, Tan allegedly told the victim that he wanted to show her a “back-cracking” technique and stood behind her to hug her, despite the girl’s objections.
The girl later confided in the store manager and the 17-year-old victim and filed a police report on 15 November at their encouragement.
The victim stopped working at the outlet after her police report, and shared her difficulties in getting her salary for November from Tan, who was allegedly evasive.
She claimed that she told her father about the issue and the man later met Tan in person to recuperate part of the salary.
While she stated in the police report that the second and third incident occurred on 11 November, she later said in a police statement that the two incidents occurred on 12 November instead.
Defence lawyer dispute dates
During cross examination, Tan’s lawyer Chia Boon Teck produced records that showed the girl had not been working on 12 November.
“If you were off, how could you have been molested twice that day?” asked the lawyer. The girl replied that she was “not so sure” and later admitted that she could have confused the dates.
The lawyer then put to the victim that she fabricated the molest incident on 12 November to frame his client.
Chia also argued that the girl’s father had not mentioned the molest allegations when he met Tan over the salary dispute.
“I put to you that you did not tell either of your parents that you were molested… because it was not true in the first place,” said the lawyer. The girl disagreed with the statement. She added that she was not close to her parents and did not confide in them emotionally, but had told them about the molest allegations.
The lawyer then accused the victim of exaggerating her evidence in court by adding the element of Tan grabbing her buttock, which was not captured in his charge sheets.
He put forth the argument that the victim told the store manager about the molest allegations in order to get her salary from Tan as soon as possible. But the victim replied that the salary dispute only occurred after she filed a police report.
Chia also revealed that the 17-year-old victim had made a police report four days after the 16-year-old did. However the 16-year-old girl said that she was not aware of it until two years later – when a mutual friend told her.
The lawyer then said, “I put to you that you and the (17-year-old victim) colluded to frame my client for molesting the two of you to get him into trouble.”
The girl replied, “For what motive? I disagree.”
Said the lawyer, “It will be best known to yourselves… we are equally mystified. I put to you it is too much of a coincidence for (police reports to be filed) four days apart and for allegations to be exactly the same and you say that you didn’t know anything about it. I’m putting to you that it is not true.”
The girl disagreed.
The trial will continue on Wednesday with the older victim expected to testify.
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