Who is the real Howard Shaw?

Lin Wenjian

Friends and associates of Howard Shaw rallied around the green activist on Thursday, a day after the scion of the prominent Shaw family was implicated in a scandal involving an underage prostitute.  

 On Wednesday, the 41-year-old showed up at the Subordinate Courts to face the charge of paying for sex with the girl in October 2010 at Hotel 81 Bencoolen. The girl, who was 17 at the time of the act, cannot be named due to a gag order imposed by the court.

With him was his lawyer, Wendell Wong from Drew and Napier, and his wife of six months, Jessie Xue, who according to local reports, was calm and composed throughout the court hearing. Howard faces a maximum sentence of seven years in jail if convicted of the charge.

The couple got married last November and appeared on the cover of local high-society magazine Singapore Tatler in February for a feature on "Great Romances". They had met six years ago when Xue was a contestant in a Miss Earth pageant, where he was a trainer and judge.

Not much else is known about his 26-year-old wife, but Yahoo! Singapore understands that she is from China and had graduated from a local polytechnic sometime in 2004. Thereafter, she worked as an operating theatre nurse in a local hospital. She was also a part-time model and was featured in local men's magazine FHM in 2007.

This is also Shaw's second marriage; he was said to have divorced his ex-wife about seven years ago and they have two daughters aged 11 and nine.

On Thursday, friends of the former Singapore Environment Council (SEC) executive director contacted by Yahoo! Singapore painted a picture of a man who is down-to-earth and passionate in driving various environmental movements when asked about him.

Li-Ann Wee, a doctor who has known Shaw for more than 20 years, described him as a "gentle, unpretentious, intelligent and thoughtful man".

"He has a lot of conviction about environmental causes and has worked hard all his life to achieve greater environmental awareness in Singapore," Wee, who is also a director in her family's business, added.

Shaw joined the SEC, an independently-funded, non-governmental organisation, when it was started in 1995. Last April he joined the Halcyon Agri Corporation, an investment holding company with businesses in rubber plantations and the offshore and marine sectors, as senior vice-president for corporate social responsibility.

Wee let on that Shaw is a humble man, adding that "not many in high society in Singapore are as genuine as Howard". She added that she last spoke to him when they bumped into each other at a market in Ghim Moh a few months ago.

Another friend, a former TV presenter who declined to be named, echoed Wee's sentiments about Shaw.

Adding that the graduate from Oxford Brookes University in Britain "is a private person" who attends social events and parties only occasionally, the friend stressed that "what happened with the case was his personal life" and declined to comment more.

Still, those close to him continue to express shock at his involvement with the case. A prominent socialite, who has known the Shaw family for 25 years, said "it is out of character. Howard is a very good man, down-to-earth and ordinary".

A local businessman who is acquainted with Shaw's father, managing director of Shaw Organisation, Shaw Vee King, said he was surprised when news of the scandal first broke.

"Even if he wanted to get the services of a professional woman, there are other ways to do it," he said of the younger Shaw's alleged act.

Meanwhile, Wee said she was "shocked and speechless" when she found out about the case on the news on Wednesday night. "It is unexpected because he is such a devoted father to his two daughters".

Shaw's mobile phone was switched off when Yahoo! Singapore called on Thursday afternoon.