Towards the end of 2013, former national badminton player Ashton Chen Yongzhao, 28, created a Facebook account to pose as a girl on the social networking site.
Using this fake identity, he began chatting with a 13-year-old schoolgirl about her sexual experiences. Chen, then 24, later cooked up a ruse to meet the teenager in person, during which he had her perform oral sex on him.
On at least two other occasions, he also had paid sex with the girl – whose family was in financial straits at the time.
Chen was sentenced in the State Courts on Tuesday (3 July) to 28 months’ jail after having pleaded guilty to two counts of sexually penetrating a minor under the age of 16 and one count of sexually penetrating a minor under the age of 14. Three charges of a similar nature were taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Addressing the court, Chen apologised to his family members and his fiancee, acknowledging that they have stood behind him through “difficult times”.
“I assure the court that I will not commit or repeat such mistakes. I will be a better person for society and for my family,” said the bespectacled man, who was dressed in a white long-sleeved t-shirt and pants.
District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim described Chen’s method of getting to know the girl as “predatory”, adding that it was premeditated and deceptive. Noting the 11-year age gap between Chen and the victim, the judge added that the court could not treat him as a youthful offender.
“You were 24 years old, you finished polytechnic, national service… You are a national player, I cannot treat you as a youthful offender,” she said. However, Chen’s early plea of guilt was a “significant mitigating factor”, said Hamidah.
According to court documents, Chen created a Facebook account in late 2013 with the username “Qing Hong” to chat with girls about their sexual experiences.
He posed as a female so that the girls he chatted with would be more open in their conversations. By July last year, Chen had accumulated about 500 friends on his new Facebook account.
Along the way, Chen chanced upon the victim’s Facebook profile. The two began chatting and the girl told Chen that she was a Secondary 1 student.
Out of all the girls he had chatted with, Chen found the girl to be most responsive to his conversation topics about sex. During their chats, the girl had told Chen that she had hugged and kissed her then-boyfriend.
After chatting with the girl for about a week, Chen decided to meet her in person. In order to do so, he used his “Qing Hong” persona to introduce the victim to “Sotong”, a man who was supposedly interested in her.
The girl then began chatting online with “Sotong”, who was actually Chen himself using a different Facebook account.
“Sotong” and the girl met for the first time in early 2014 at the void deck of a HDB block in Tampines. The pair chatted about the girl’s sexual experiences before Chen asked if she would be willing to perform oral sex on him. The girl, who was 13 at the time, agreed and the duo proceeded to a staircase landing for the act.
As “Qing Hong”, Chen then asked the girl about her meeting with “Sotong” and she told him that she had not enjoyed the encounter. “Qing Hong” and the girl eventually stopped chatting with each other.
On 29 April 2015, Chen resumed chatting with the girl as “Qing Hong”. Upon learning that girl had slept with her boyfriend, “Qing Hong” asked the victim if she would be willing to have sex with a “friend” but the girl said she wished to remain loyal to her boyfriend.
Sometime between end-2015 and early-2016, however, the victim told “Qing Hong” that she was willing to meet the “friend” – who was, in fact, Chen – if he could help her out financially.
Chen then contacted the girl over WhatsApp to offer the girl $80 for a sexual encounter. She accepted the offer as her family was facing financial difficulties and she did not want to take money from them.
Between end 2015 and early 2016, the two met at night at a multi-storey carpark at Simei, where Chen paid the girl – who was then 14 – and the pair had protected sex.
The two met on another two occasions around mid-2016 for sex in a mall’s nursing room and at another Simei staircase landing. The girl was 15 years old at the time. While it is unclear whether the nursing room encounter involved money, Chen paid the girl for sex at the stair case landing in July 2016.
Chen and the girl stopped communicating with one another shortly after their last encounter.
On 10 April last year, a police report was made after an investigation officer attached to the Specialised Crime Branch of the Criminal Investigation Department received some information regarding the girl engaging in paid sex. Chen’s offences came to light after.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Sruthi Boppana sought a sentence of 33 months for Chen citing the degree of premeditation he had shown in setting up a Facebook account and pretending to be female.
Chen’s lawyer Terence Seah said that his client was remorseful and a contributing member of society.
Chen represented Singapore in numerous international competitions as part of the National Badminton Team from 2000 to 2014.
He participated in the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the South-east Asian Games in 2011. Chen retired from the National Badminton Team in 2014 and began coaching secondary schools.
For sexual penetration of a person under 14, Chen could have been jailed up to 20 years and fined or caned. For sexual penetration of a person under 16, Chen could have been jailed 10 years and fined and/or caned.
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