SINGAPORE — A youth who faced mounting gambling debts decided to pose as a seller of a luxury watch and rob his buyers when they met.
Terry Tong Hong Zhi attempted to rob a victim who had brought $100,000 in cash after setting the meet-up location at a quiet private housing estate.
After brandishing a penknife, Tong tried to snatch the paper bag from the victim, who attempted to flee but was pushed down. During the resulting tussle, Tong slashed the victim’s face but could not wrest the paper bag from him.
Tong, 20, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntarily causing hurt while committing robbery on Thursday (10 March). A reformative training report has been called to assess his suitability for the sentence.
Elaborate preparations for robbery
Tong began gambling online in January 2020 and eventually accumulated a debt of $40,000. To pay creditors, he devised a plan to pose as a seller of an expensive watch and rob potential buyers who met him.
To avoid being caught, Tong bought a SIM card from what he termed the “black market” and installed it in his sister’s spare phone. He then used the mobile phone to create Carousell accounts under multiple monikers and set his profile pictures with images of a middle-aged Chinese man which he found online.
He researched luxury watches on Carousell and listed a model from Patek Philippe for sale, setting a price lower than other listings in order to attract buyers. He did not have such a watch.
Tong also decided to set the meet-up at Gerald Drive, a private housing estate which was quiet at night, as he thought it would convince buyers that he was a genuine seller. He even visited the area and planned a route from his residence to Gerald Drive and a meet-up location which had no CCTVs.
Before meeting potential buyers, Tong would also observe them from afar to decide whether to rob them.
On 13 July 2021, a victim, a 33-year-old male Vietnamese, asked to meet Tong to buy a Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711/1A on behalf of an acquaintance. Tong agreed to “sell” the watch for $115,000.
The victim brought $100,000 in cash stored in a paper bag and another bag for the meeting at 10pm. His arrival in a Grab car was observed by Tong, who decided to rob him. Tong approached the victim and brandished a penknife, demanding the cash.
When the victim refused, Tong tried to snatch the paper bag but the victim pushed him away and fled. Tong gave chase and pushed the victim to the ground, trying in vain to snatch the bag, which the victim clutched to him tightly. After the victim screamed for help, Tong slashed the left side of his face.
Covering his tracks
Tong then ran to where he had parked his electric-powered bicycle. He took off his cap, windbreaker, shoes, and socks and placed them, along with the penknife, into a plastic bag. He placed the plastic bag in a bag at the back of the e-bike and rode it to the void deck of his residence, taking a route which he earlier found did not have CCTV cameras.
He called a friend to pick him up in a lorry. When the friend arrived, Tong left his e-bike at the void deck and boarded the lorry with the plastic bag. He asked his friend to drive to either Woodlands or Choa Chu Kang and Tong would discard his belongings along the way.
He also performed a “factory reset” on his sister’s handphone. He later threw the SIM card away.
The victim was conveyed to hospital where he was found to have a 10cm gash on his left cheek, extending to his chin. He also had superficial abrasions over both palms. He underwent debridement, toilet, and suturing of his laceration, and was hospitalised for two days.
Tong was arrested two days later. He admitted to formulating the plan, attempting to snatch the paper bag and cutting the victim’s face with the penknife.
Urging the court to call for a probation suitability report, Tong’s lawyer Clarence Lun from Fervent Chambers said that Tong had been influenced by friends, who turned out to be loan sharks, during the Circuit Breaker period to gamble online.
Lun added that his client was young and impressionable and did not know how to deal with the debt. “Tong is extremely remorseful, apologetic, and worried about the consequence of his debt on his family and has indicated that he is currently working to slowly pay off his debts little by little.”
Tong’s case will return to court for sentencing on 7 April.
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