[UPDATE on Friday 17 January, 11:48am: Adding updates on alleged kidnappers' second court appearance]
Heng Cheng Boon and Lee Sze Yong, the two men accused of kidnapping Sheng Siong CEO Lim Hock Chee's elderly mother Ng Lai Poh, will be remanded for another week as police continue to investigate the rare case that has gripped the nation.
In a brief appearance in court on Friday, Heng, 50, and Lee, 41, stood one by one and remained silent as police prosecutors sought more time to complete their investigations. They are currently being held at Cantonment police complex, and their case will be mentioned again on 28 January.
Previously, reports in local media revealed that the two men lived together for more than a decade.
Singapore broadsheet The Straits Times reported that 50-year-old Heng Cheng Boon and 41-year-old Lee Sze Yong, who were charged with abetting and illegally abducting and holding a person to ransom respectively, are lovers and lived in a flat in Hougang with Lee and his mother.
A lady who reportedly identified herself as Lee's mother told reporters gathered outside her flat that both Lee and Heng share the apartment with her, and that Lee was her only son.
A separate report from local free daily Today contradicted this, however, saying that the lady, known as Madam Seow, claimed instead when asked again about their relationship that they were "close friends", and later, "sworn brothers".
Heng and Lee, accused of being responsible for the kidnap-and-ransom attempt, were believed to have initially demanded S$20 million for the safe return of 79-year-old Madam Ng Lai Poh.
Both kidnappers, who face a sentence of life imprisonment or death, will be held in remand at Police Cantonment Complex for further investigation.
Watch a video of how the kidnapping unfolded:
Ng, the mother of Sheng Siong boss Lim Hock Chee, 52, was walking by the roadside near Block 631 Hougang Avenue 8 when she was approached by Lee, who told her that her son had taken a fall and that he would bring her to see him.
Ng then got into a car, was transferred to another car and then was blindfolded and had her hands and feet bound. She was brought to an unknown location, and somewhere around that time, Lim received a call from the kidnappers, who told him they had his mother and demanded $20 million in ransom.
Initially thinking it was a scam, Lim only believed what had happened when they put his mother on the phone, and repeated attempts from him and his helper to call her phone failed. After a discussion with an older brother, he reported the kidnapping to the police at 2:13pm.
Lim, who is according to Forbes worth some S$655 million, then reportedly negotiated a reduced sum of $2 million, with the help of Criminal Investigation Department officers, and over a series of at least 30 calls throughout the day and in the evening.
Reports in local media say the younger of the two suspects, who are not related, is an odd-job labourer, while the other man is a credit card promoter.
Lim had left the cash in a bag for the kidnappers in Sembawang Park around midnight on Wednesday. It was recovered by police when they arrested the two men separately in Hougang and Ang Mo Kio just after midnight on Thursday.
His mother was subsequently released at a bus stop near Seletar West camp in the wee hours of Thursday morning, said police, who noted that she was released unhurt, even as they raced to solve the case given her age and medical condition.
Speaking on the phone with Yahoo Singapore on Thursday, a very relieved Lim said he was extremely frightened and worried when his mother went missing.
"My mother is a very fit and healthy woman, and she's been walking back and forth from the market every day for more than 10 years now," he said in Mandarin. "She would go out in the morning, meet her friends and come back around lunchtime, and there were never any problems."
He said he, his wife and his four children live with his mother in a terrace house near Hougang Avenue 8, which she inherited from his deceased father. Some of his eight siblings live nearby too.
"We're all extremely relieved and happy that she's home safe," he added, saying he now wants to leave the case and its investigation to the police.
In an earlier media interview, he said she had visited the hospital for a check-up, and is now safe at home. He reportedly also said that the kidnappers did not beat her or shout at her, but threatened Lim, telling him they would hurt Ng if they did not receive money from him.
Lim also said he will not allow his mother to go to the market by herself anymore.
Lim, who is also the founder of Sheng Siong, the third-largest chain of supermarkets here, is listed as Singapore’s 35th richest man, according to Forbes. He grew his business from a humble pork stall, which he wound up in 1985.
The listed chain has seen the value of its shares more than double since its IPO on Singapore’s stock exchange in 2011, and now even runs television variety programmes on Channel 8 and Suria.
Of the three past substantial kidnapping cases that involved a ransom, police said all the perpetrators were jailed for life. Police have reportedly warned that the men are liable to either death or life imprisonment.
On his Facebook page, PM Lee also congratulated the police force on a "great job" in catching the kidnappers so quickly, adding that kidnapping is a very serious crime.
"The punishment is life imprisonment or death. We will deal with the perpetrators to the full extent of the law", he wrote.