SINGAPORE — A German citizen was convicted in Singapore on Friday (12 July) of promoting commercial sex with underage girls in the Philippines after a trial.
Michael Frank Hartung, a 48-year-old Singapore permanent resident, had been caught in the act by undercover police officers who posed as prospective customers.
The former banking executive contested two charges of distributing information on the promotion of commercial sex with under-18 minors in the Philippines. According to one of the charges, Hartung met two undercover police officers in 2015 at Starbucks in Raffles City Shopping Centre.
In the second charge, Hartung met another two officers at a pub along Mackenzie Road in 2016 for the same purpose.
After 20 days of trial, District Judge (DJ) Ng Cheng Thiam said that the court accepted the evidence given by the undercover police officers.
Hartung had communicated via messaging with one of the officers, known by his alias Jackson Fong, who indicated his desire to go overseas to have sex with young and inexperienced girls. The German then arranged for a meeting.
Besides enquiring Jackson about the kind of tour he wanted, Hartung also asked if the undercover officer wanted girls or men.
Describing the messages exchanged between the two as “very revealing”, DJ Ng said, “I find the accused knew that Jackson was looking for girls or women for paid sex.”
Jackson and another police officer, known by his alias as Michael, met Hartung at Starbucks on 26 September 2015. Hartung gave the two men advice for their arrangements, including for accommodation and offered to ask a friend to help them.
Hartung said he could travel to Manila in advance to prepare for their arrival and promised to arrange for six virgin girls between 14 and 16 years old to accompany them in Manila, according to the prosecution.
During the trial, Hartung claimed that he had wanted to “play along” with the police officers so as not to offend them. His purpose in meeting the officers was to seek legitimate business opportunities, Hartung had argued through his lawyer Mohamed Niroze Idroos.
He testified that he did not like Jackson and Michael, and did not want to engage them further. Instead, he gave them information about the sex service in a bid to get out of the meeting.
Alleging that there was a police conspiracy against him, Hartung said that he was embarrassed when he was brought to his office in handcuffs. Due to the case, Hartung lost his job and annual income of $250,000, he added.
The prosecution contended that the evidence given during the trial had shown that Hartung was “not merely an innocent bystander caught in the fray” and that he actively “sought illicit business opportunities” for the officers posing as customers.
DJ Ng noted that Hartung’s testimony was inconsistent with his actions. Aftering meeting in person at Starbucks, there were more exchanges between the accused and Jackson, the judge said.
When Hartung found out his contact in the Philippines was unable to find young girls, the German turned down Jackson’s request.
Hartung later chatted with the same undercover police officer, who assumed another alias, through a forum known for discussions on bondage, domination, and sadomasochism.
His separate encounter with the undercover police officers at the pub along Mackenzie Road on 15 April 2016 was recorded and a transcript later produced in court as evidence.
Commenting on the defence’s case that Hartung had meant to promote his legitimate business, DJ Ng pointed out that the German did not refer to it when he met the police officers.
Hartung has four other charges relating to possessing obscene films and films without a valid license stood down. He will return to court on 15 August.