Trio fined for circulating photos of Bionix in fatal accident

Amir Hussain
Senior Reporter
Among the new safety measures are rear view cameras and more emergency horns for the SAF's Bionix armoured vehicles. (PHOTO: Mindef)

SINGAPORE — Three men who circulated photos of a fatal accident involving a Bionix armoured vehicle and a Land Rover at Murai Urban Training Facility in November last year were on Monday (2 December) fined between $1,500 and $3,000 under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

One of the men, Muhammad Arif Azman, 22, was a full-time national serviceman (NSF) attached to Jurong Fire Station who responded to the scene. He took two photos which he sent to a WhatsApp chat group comprising present and former Jurong Fire Station personnel.

Brandon Tan Jien Jet, 21, who was also an NSF at the fire station, forwarded two out of seven photos of the scene that were sent to the chat group to another WhatsApp chat group that he shared with six friends.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Zaki Haji Mokhtar, 24, who was formerly attached to the fire station but completed his full-time NS in September last year, sent two photos to his brother.

Arif pleaded guilty to one charge each of wrongful communication for forwarding the photos and failure to comply with an order to delete the photos. He was fined $3,000 in total, or $1,500 for each charge.

Tan and Zaki each admitted to one charge of wrongful communication for which they were each fined $1,500.

The accident on 3 November killed the Land Rover’s driver, NSF Liu Kai, 22.

In the wake of the accident, a Committee of Inquiry was formed and Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen told Parliament that rear view cameras and additional emergency horn (e-horn) activation buttons would be installed in the locally-developed Bionix vehicles.

About the case

At about 10.20am, the Singapore Civil Defence Force despatched 15 firemen to the scene in two fire engines and a rescue vehicle.

When they reached the scene, the officers saw the Land Rover crushed beneath the Bionix.

Arif, a corporal, used his phone to take two photos of the scene before helping his colleagues extricate Liu.

Mohamad Haikal Mohd Zainal Abiddin, 21, a full-time national serviceman and section commander holding the rank of sergeant, allegedly used his phone to take five photos of the scene, three of which captured the Bionix and the Land Rover. The other two photos showed the vehicle’s licence plates.

At about 2pm, the firemen returned to Jurong Fire Station. “Arif and Haikal then sent the respective photographs they took to a WhatsApp chat group comprising 24 present and former SCDF personnel attached to Jurong Fire Station, including all five accused persons,” said Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhou Yihong.

Tan, a sergeant, then forwarded two of the seven photos to another chat group he shared with six of his friends who were NSFs from the SCDF and Singapore Armed Forces.

Zaki also forwarded two of the photos to his brother.

At about 4.10pm, the deputy director of SCDF’s corporate communications department told the commander of Jurong Fire Station that a photo of the accident was circulating on WhatsApp. “The said photograph captured the back view of the Bionix partially on top of and crushing the Land Rover and was obviously taken through the front windscreen of an SCDF vehicle,” said DPP Zhou.

The station commander, Captain Dinesh K Verlachamy, 36, asked the firemen to gather at the station at 5pm and briefed them about the breach. He interviewed the personnel and found out that Arif and Haikal had taken and circulated the photos.

Dinesh then asked all the personnel to delete the photos from their phones.

The station commander made a police report about the breach under the OSA by his staff at about 7.50pm.

Arif’s phone was later seized by police who found that he had not deleted two photos of the scene.

Haikal’s case will be mentioned on 24 December.

Thng Yu Xuan, 21, the remaining man who has been charged in relation to the incident, has a pre-trial conference fixed for 26 December.

Meanwhile, the Land Rover’s vehicle commander, Captain Ong Lin Jie, 28, who was beside Liu, faces a charge for doing a rash act causing death. Ong’s pre-trial conference is fixed for 23 December.

The maximum punishment Arif, Tan and Zaki could have faced is a fine of up to $2,000 and up to two years’ jail.

Related stories:

SCDF files police report on 5 NSFs who took and circulated photo of SAF vehicular incident

SAF officer charged for causing CFC Liu Kai's death in Bionix accident; 5 others face charges for spreading photos

NSF Liu Kai's death: Bionix driver kept reversing despite commands to stop

Parliament: New SAF safety measures to include rear view cameras for Bionix vehicles