SINGAPORE — A warrant of arrest was issued for a man convicted of robbing a Bukit Timah Shell petrol station in 2017 after he absconded from court midway during a hearing on Tuesday (17 September).
Visvanathan Vadivelu, 50, attended court on Tuesday to give an update about his medical report but he requested to have his plea of guilt retracted. His request prompted the prosecution to accuse Visvanathan of dragging the proceedings in order to escape caning. A person who is above 50 is not liable for caning.
Visvanathan was 48 when he was charged with one count of armed robbery, which carries a mandatory punishment of at least 12 strokes of the cane.
The unemployed man had pleaded guilty to four charges, including armed robbery by day, two counts of drug consumption, and one count of possessing diamorphine, on 13 August this year.
On Tuesday, Visvanathan claimed that he had only pleaded guilty to the drug possession charge and denied admitting to the other three charges. He alleged that his lawyer, A Revi Shanker, had lied to him. On Monday, Visvanathan discharged Shanker as his lawyer.
When asked by District Judge Kan Shuk Weng how Shanker had lied to him, Visvanathan said he could not remember the details but added, “He said something about medical treatment and possession so I pleaded to that.”
In response, DJ Kan said, “You can’t even remember what he said to you, how can you say he lied to you?”
Visvanathan claimed that he had “strong evidence and reasons that he should not plead guilty” and referred to his purported mental illness, insisting that no “proper forensic assessment” was done on him. He added that Shanker knew about his condition but was uninterested.
An Institute of Mental Health report prepared in August 2017 stated that while Visvanathan had suffered from depression and schizophrenia, his illnesses had not contributed to his offences.
Visvanathan’s allegations prompted Deputy Public Prosecutor Chong Yong to accuse him of abusing court proceedings.
“He has been abusing the court process since 2017, delaying the matter and dragging it out till he is 50 years old and (hence) not liable to caning,” said DPP Chong, adding that Visvanathan was telling “complete fiction” in court to delay proceedings even more.
DPP Chong said that Visvanathan was trying to “keep himself out of custody for as long as possible” and that the prosecution rejected his application for the plea retraction.
The hearing was stood down at 4.30pm, with Shanker slated to appear in court to respond to the allegations.
When the hearing resumed at 5.10pm, Visvanathan was nowhere to be found and could not be contacted.
DJ Kan issued a warrant of arrest for him, revoking his bail of $70,000. Visvanathan’s mother, who is his bailor, will have to attend a hearing on 29 October to explain why the bail amount should not be forfeited.
Facts of the case
According to the statement of facts, Visvanathan decided to rob a petrol station along Upper Bukit Timah Road on 31 July 2017.
He wore a black motorcycle helmet, black gloves and sunglasses to hide his identity and armed himself with a kitchen knife.
As he entered a Shell Station with his helmet visor pushed down, he waited for a customer to leave before carrying out the robbery.
After the customer left, he pointed his knife at the cash register and shouted at the cashier to open it. The cashier complied and Visvanathan placed $1,193 into a plastic bag. He then fled from the petrol station in his motorcycle. Later on the same day, he was arrested in his flat.
On 15 September 2017, Visvanathan went to the Clementi Neighbourhood Police Centre while he was on bail. He left drugs at the male toilet, with one substance later found to contain diamorphine. He was later re-arrested and his urine tested positive for morphine and methamphetamine.