SINGAPORE — Terence Choa Kwok Fai, better known as the actor Terence Cao, was fined $3,500 on Tuesday (25 May) for allowing 12 guests into his home to celebrate his birthday last October, in violation of COVID-19 regulations.
Cao, a Mediacorp actor, had originally arranged for five guests to gather at his Daisy Road apartment. They included fellow artistes Shane Pow Xun Ping, 30, and Jeffrey Xu Mingjie, 32, who were also celebrating their birthdays.
While the number of guests had originally been within the five-person limit, things got out of hand as his guests invited others, and seven of them arrived throughout the night of 2 October.
As each guest arrived, Cao, 53, let him or her in and allowed them to stay.
"His birthday celebration was supposed to be a joyous occasion, but it transformed into nightmarish proportions," said his lawyer S S Dhillon, as Cao pleaded guilty to having more than five guests at his apartment.
Cao's act was a breach of COVID-19 measures during Phase 2 of Singapore's partial lockdown, which began on 19 June last year. At the time, social gatherings of more than five people were forbidden.
Apart from Xu and Pow, the other guests were: artistes Sonia Nicola Chew, 30; Julie Tan Shaoyin, 29; Heng Tee Kok, 45; Dawn Yeoh, 34; and Jeremy Chan Ming Yuew, 29; sales manager Tan Jun Chuan, 30; former editor Lance Lim, 50; marketing managers Debbie Li Shuyi, 33 and Eleanor Wang Chunwei, 34; and part-time model and actress Valnice Yek Jia Hui, 22.
Party that got out of hand
Cao had organised a social gathering involving himself, Lim, Pow, Xu, Heng and Chan, intending to celebrate the birthdays of Pow, Xu and himself. Lim however, invited Lu, Chew, Julie and Wang, despite knowing that this would exceed the guest limit.
On 2 October, at about 8pm, Yek arrived at Pow's invitation and Cao allowed her to enter. Pow and Yek had not known that more guests would be coming.
Before 9pm, Tan arrived by himself, to Cao's surprise, but Cao let him in. Tan had not known that more guests would be coming. By this point, there were four guests in Cao's house.
The others began arriving from then, with Wang and Yeoh arriving before 10pm, and Lu, Julie, and Heng arriving before 11pm. Before midnight, Chew, Xu and Chan arrived. None of the guests had known that there would be more than five guests.
By this point, there were 12 guests in the unit. Throughout the party, the participants chatted and ate with each other and did not have their masks on. They knew that their gathering was against the law.
All 13 at the gathering held a birthday cake-cutting ceremony and took group photos. Xu later posted one of the photos on his Instagram Stories page.
Yek, Tan, Wang, Yeoh, Heng and Chan left the unit by 1am the next day, leaving six behind. The remaining guests left by 4am.
Lim was fined $3,000 on 18 May, while the remaining were each fined $300.
'Tribute' to frontline workers: defence lawyer
Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew sought a fine of $3,500 to reflect Cao’s "increased culpability" as a host who had knowingly allowed 12 guests to enter his premises.
In asking for a fine of $2,000, Dhillon stressed the actor's remorse. He cited his client's contribution to charities, adding that Cao had produced seven episodes in a mini series called Frontline Heroes, which highlighted the "struggles and bravery" of frontline workers, in September last year.
He added that Cao had been caught between being "legally wrong or morally incorrect". It would have been morally or ethically incorrect for Cao to have rejected guests who had come to surprise and celebrate his birthday for him, he said.
“He couldn’t have told them ‘get out of here’. He was caught between being this way or that way. Unfortunately, his heart couldn’t turn them away,” said Dhillon.
In response to Dhillon, DPP Yew said the lawyer was making it seem as though the COVID-19 regulations were immoral or unethical.
“The charge against the accused… is to decide to let them in or to tell them 'no'. We are in a pandemic where there are laws to abide by, laws that save lives, that is the choice he has to make.”
Cao currently runs a food business, Sibay Shiok, which he incorporated on 24 August last year. It is a means to support himself and his 12-year-old daughter, said Dhillon.
For flouting COVID-19 regulations, Cao could have been jailed up to six months and fined up to $10,000.
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