SINGAPORE — A bubble tea store owner accused of molesting two female employees at his outlet was cleared of all charges on Wednesday (24 February).
Tan Kah Heng, 55, was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal on eight molest charges by District Judge Christopher Goh following the close of his trial. One charge of molest was earlier withdrawn.
Tan was accused of touching the buttocks of two girls, then 16 and 17, while they worked at his store, located in an MRT Station, between October and November 2017.
He contested nine charges of molest, three of which related to him touching and smacking the 16-year-old's buttocks and hugging her body from behind. The remaining four stated that he brushed the 17-year-old girl's buttocks.
The 16-year-old girl was hired on 20 October 2017 and was paid $9 an hour. She later recommended her secondary school friend, the 17-year-old girl, to the job. The older girl was hired in end-October 2017.
Both were in charge of taking orders, making drinks and general cleaning. The two were scheduled for work based on a weekly roster and their salaries paid in cash depending on the number of hours they clocked.
Ahead of the verdict, Tan's lawyer, Chia Boon Teck, argued that the two alleged victims and the outlet's store manager had colluded to frame his client as a result of their dispute and unhappiness with him over their salaries. He pointed out that all three women had contradicting testimonies, and that the two alleged victims had been driven to file police reports because of salary disputes.
He described the 16-year-old victim's testimony as "incredulous and unreliable", adding that she had "embellished her testimony". While the girl had stated that Tan had touched her buttocks in her police statement, she later changed her evidence to a "grab and squeeze" in order to "up the stakes" against Tan.
Chia also pointed out several instances of the 16-year-old giving different accounts, such as when she told her parents about the molest, when her father had prepared a calculation of the salary owed to her, and when she told her parents about the salary dispute.
On the 17-year-old, Chia said that she had "flip-flopped" on the dates she went to work and manipulated them so that they were consistent with the period of alleged molest.
As for the store manager, the defence lawyer submitted that she was not an objective or impartial witness as she had her own salary dispute with Tan. This was her catalyst for colluding with the two girls to file a police report, according to Chia.
In acquitting Tan, DJ Goh pointed to the inconsistencies of the two alleged victims’ testimonies.
"Allegations of sexual misconduct are easy to make and, in most cases, difficult to disprove. Hence it is not surprising that a victim’s evidence should be unusually convincing. In this case, they were not," said the judge.
While the younger alleged victim made a police report on 15 November 2017, she had been unable to provide the dates or the timing of the molest incidents that allegedly happened two to three weeks earlier.
Even though the younger girl confirmed in court that two acts had occurred on 12 November 2017, she was then confronted by documentary evidence showing that she did not come to work that day.
The girl's reaction was also not consistent with one who had been molested, said the judge. Even though she claimed she was shocked, the girl had been able to work long hours even after the acts, and did not tell anybody about the incident.
"She did not inform her parents of anything until at least two weeks later (after the police report was made). Even then, the evidence suggests that she was more concerned about the non-payment of her salary, rather than the acts of molest," said DJ Goh.
The judge said the older girl's evidence was even less convincing and she was even more vague about the dates of the offences.
At the close of its case, the prosecution withdrew one of the charges as the older girl had set out a totally different story.
Like the younger girl, the 17-year-old did not react in a way that suggested anything untoward had happened to her in conversations with the younger girl, the judge said.
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