SINGAPORE — A fierce business rivalry dating back 100 years between two adjacent Muslim eateries in Bugis came to a head on Friday (6 March), with the boss of one restaurant found guilty of conspiring to slash his rival.
After a protracted trial lasting some 44 days, Zackeer Abbass Khan, 49, and his long-time friend Anwer Ambiya Kadir Maideen, 50, were both found guilty of engaging in a conspiracy to cause grievous hurt to Victory restaurant supervisor Liakath Ali Mohamed Ibrahim with a weapon. Zackeer was also convicted of one count of criminal intimidation.
Anwer, a headman of the Sio Ang Koon secret society, had instructed a member, Joshua Navindran Surainthiran, to carry out the attack on 26 August 2015 at about 9.50pm, at a bridge between Rochor Canal and Sungei Road. The attack left Ali with a permanent scar to his right upper lip.
Joshua has pleaded guilty to his role and was sentenced to five years’ jail and six strokes of the cane.
Four others who were involved in the incident, Joshua’s elder brother, Joel Girithiran Surainthiran, Ramge Visvamnathan, Zam Zam employees Koleth Abdul Navas and Koleth Abdul Nasir, have all been dealt with by the court.
Delivering the guilty verdict on Friday, District Judge (DJ) Mathew Joseph noted that this case was all about the intense competition between the two eateries.
“Business rivalry is a common occurrence. This is part of everyday commerce and has to be taken into stride. In the case of Victory and Zam Zam restaurant, both are household names in Singapore and at the same time, their rivalry - we’ve heard in court - has gone on for almost 100 years.”
“This is not surprising as murtabak is a very popular and tasty food item (that) is eaten at all time, day and night, in Singapore.”
The victim could have been Zackeer’s partner had there not been a falling out over a failed business venture. Both restaurants had also persistently touted patrons, which resulted in tensions between management and staff of both ventures, noted the DJ.
“Ultimately, as later events unfolded, this led to a bad taste in the mouth for Zackeer. Against this backdrop, the court has considered the totality of evidence...In my final analysis, I preferred the prosecution’s evidence over the defence’s,” he said.
At the crux of the judge’s decision were what he described were unreliable witnesses who had underlying interests to protect Zackeer.
Joshua, who testified as a prosecution witness, had retracted his statement made in a police station and attempted to absolve Zackeer in his court testimony. While the defence had sought to argue that there was no incentive for Joshua to lie, the DJ disagreed. He noted that Joshua’s brother, Joel, was still a co-accused at the point of Joshua’s testimony.
“Joshua therefore had every incentive to absolve his brother Joel…Anwer was his friend and part of his gang and Zackeer…being rich and influential could and would take care of Joshua after his release from prison. Joshua would have been aligned with these common human considerations,” said DJ Mathew.
“I should state here that I observed Joshua carefully at the trial. He did not impress me at all as a reliable witness, was shifty and evasive with answers and it also did not escape my attention that he had been making eye contact and signalling with his brother Joel when giving evidence. I therefore don’t find him credible at all.”
Likewise, Nasir had implicated Zackeer in his police statements but retracted his statement in court.
“Again I take the common sense view here, Nasir is a long standing employee of Zam Zam, still remains an employee.”
“I had observed Nasir very carefully in court and he came across as an evasive witness and over eager to put forward his key message that Zackeer had no role in any conspiracy to slash Ali…I therefore find that having observed his testimony in court, Nasir had every reason to protect Zackeer.”
Zackeer threatened to kill victim within a week: Prosecution
The prosecution said Zackeer’s enmity towards Ali was a “deep rooted one”. The two had known each other for more than 20 years.
“The genesis of this ill-will can be traced to 2005, when Zackeer and the victim were business partners. The business failed and Zackeer ended up being sued and ‘cheated’ of $80,000. In his mind, (Ali) was responsible for this,” said the prosecution.
Ali also joined rival Victory restaurant in 2014 and pulled customers away from Zam Zam.
On 22 August 2015, the police arrived at the restaurants to advise them to refrain from touting and Zackeer believed that this was a “set up” by Ali. Incensed, Zackeer threatened Ali to hit or kill him within a week.
He also threatened Ali’s boss, Edikilakath Gazali, that he would not be able to do business within a week.
After Zackeer instructed Anwer to attack Ali and offered him money, Anwer approached Joshua for the assault.
Zackeer and Anwer will be sentenced on 13 April.
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