SINGAPORE — A Malaysian man who killed his employer over a payment dispute and then escaped detection for 30 years due to a misspelling of his name was jailed eight-and-a-half years by the High Court on Monday (15 July).
Arumugam Veerasamy, 61, pleaded guilty to one count of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in relation to the death of his compatriot, 43-year-old Muthiah Kutha Lingam, on 28 August 1986.
Arumugam, who was 28 at the time of the offence, was an odd-job labourer who would travel here regularly from Johor. He continued to do so for work, and to visit his wife and daughter, even after the killing.
He was finally arrested in 2016 after fingerprint technology was introduced at Singapore’s border checkpoints.
Victim owed accused salary
Muthiah, a construction worker, had met Arumugam a month before the incident and hired him on several occasions to work odd jobs.
Even though he agreed to pay Arumugam $45 each day, he only coughed up $10. At the time of his death, Muthiah owed Arumugam about $1,000 in unpaid salary.
While in Singapore, Muthiah resided in a storeroom at 96F Lorong Kabong, which belonged to his previous company Zodiac Construction.
At 1.30pm on 28 August 1986, both Muthiah and Arumugam visited the room to discuss Arumugam’s complaint about his unpaid salary.
Muthiah’s other co-worker later joined them and the trio drank several beers. As the group was starting on their fifth bottle, the discussion became heated.
Muthiah asked why the other two did not trust him and claimed that he was waiting for his boss to pay him in full after the works were completed.
Arumugam did not believe Muthiah as he had seen the latter drinking from morning to evening on his free days. At some point, Muthiah slapped Arumugam’s face, spurring the third man to leave the room as he did not want to be involved in the coming fight.
As Muthiah and Arumugam scuffled, the latter picked up a hammer that was lying nearby. Muthiah attempted to hold off Arumugam’s attack by gripping the latter’s hand but lost his hold.
Arumugam then struck the left side of Muthiah’s head three times with the hammer. Muthiah fell on his back and Arumugam hit him another two times in the chest with the same weapon.
Following the assault, Arumugam tossed the hammer aside and quickly left the room. He observed that Muthiah was mumbling and groaning in pain at the time.
With blood still on his hands, Arumugam left for Johor via the Woodlands Checkpoint.
Another worker at company found Muthiah lying motionless on his mattress later that night. He informed his supervisor, who then alerted the police.
Paramedics pronounced Muthiah dead at the scene at 8.29pm. He was later found to have sustained multiple injuries, including five fractures in his ribs, sternum and skull.
Name misspelled on work permit
For 30 years, Arumugam avoided arrest as his name had been misspelled on his Singapore work permit and, hence, the police gazette issued against him as well.
Due to technological advances in 2006, Arumugam was traced via his fingerprints. He was arrested on 6 September 2016 when he entered Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint.
The prosecution sought for at least nine years’ jail for Arumugam, who had imposed a “slow and painful death” for Muthiah.
“This offence is particularly heinous due to the excruciating pain that the deceased must have experienced prior to death,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Kelly Ho.
Arumugam had witnessed the victim in pain but had “callously fled” instead of assisting him, the DPP added.
The prosecution also cited the need for deterrence as Arumugam had been convicted of voluntarily causing hurt in 1982 and snatch theft in 1984.
Accused not aware victim had died
Arumugam’s pro-bono lawyer, Siraj Shaik Aziz, said that when his client had left the room, Muthiah was still alive.
The defence’s mitigation plea also noted that Arumugam found out about Muthiah’s death only on the day of his arrest. Up to that point, Arumugam had assumed that nothing had happened to Muthiah as he had not been arrested for any crime.
Filled with remorse after being informed, he was forthcoming with the authorities about what had taken place.
The defence also said that Arumugam had many social visits to Singapore after the incident to spend evenings with his wife and daughter. It was on one such visit that he was arrested.
As a Tamil-educated person, the misspelling of Arumugam’s name had also not been an issue to him, said Siraj, who sought eight years’ jail.
Justice Chan Seng Oon said that he hoped Arumugam could reflect on his offence and return to his family after he serves his time.
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