Funan Mall stall owner: Debt collectors laughed and said nothing will happen to them
Even after he went to the State Courts to file a complaint, the debt collectors who went after him were not afraid.
"They told me to go ahead and said that they were not afraid," said Mr Sherman Chang, 53, the owner of a Chinese soup stall at a foodcourt in Funan DigitaLife Mall at North Bridge Road.
"They just laughed and mocked me, and said that nothing will happen to them."
The debt collectors from Double Ace Associates had gone to Mr Chang's stall at lunchtime on Jan 15 and allegedly damaged items, including the cash register, in their attempt to collect a $21,000 debt he owed a supplier.
They also chased customers away and put up a banner that read "Attention. Debt Collection in Process".
But in a two-day islandwide operation which ended yesterday, seven suspects, including Double Ace Associates owner Frankie Tan, were arrested for unlawful assembly.
They were taken to Mr Chang's stall in restraints yesterday evening. There, they were questioned by police investigators.
The seven men, aged between 35 and 48, were led from the lift to the stall on the fifth storey one at a time.
Their expressions ranged from stoic to cocky.
While most were cooperative, some refused to answer questions, telling the officers that they had forgotten what had happened.
Mr Tan was the last to be led to the stall. He had previously claimed that the mess at the stall was not the work of his employees.
A police spokesman said yesterday: "On Jan 15 at about 1.20 pm, police were informed that a group of debt collectors were causing nuisance and creating a scene at Food Junction located at Funan DigitaLife Mall.
"Preliminary investigations revealed that the debt collectors were demanding loan repayment from one of the stall owners, during which it is believed that they had prevented customers from patronising the said food stall.
"Through an extensive investigative probe, the identities of all seven suspects were established and they were eventually arrested between 10am on Feb 12 and 3.30pm on Feb 13 at various locations islandwide."
The spokesman said that computers, laptops and company documents were seized as case exhibits, and that the suspects will be charged in court today.
Those convicted of unlawful assembly can be jailed up to two years, fined or both.
But Mr Chang said he still feels unsafe.
"It's good that they are arrested, but if and when they are released, they might still come and beat me up," he said.
"Even if they are arrested again, I might be injured or worse."
He said that on top of him repaying the $21,000 debt, the debt collectors demanded an extra $12,000 as their "salary".
He eventually paid them $7,000 after negotiating.
When contacted by The New Paper, Mr Tan had claimed that it was common practice for debtors to pay the collectors on top of the debt owed.
He said: "Like a court case, the loser pays. That is just how it is."
But other debt collection agencies said this was not their practice.
On Thursday, Parliament discussed if regulation for debt collectors is necessary. (See report below.)
Mr Chang hopes there will be tighter rules to better manage debt collectors and keep them in check.
"I don't have problems with them collecting money because that's their job," he said.
"But it's the way they collect it. I hope there will be regulation because if they are allowed to continue acting like hooligans, our society will suffer."
Workers at the mall told TNP that they were glad the men had been arrested.
"It wasn't right for them to come like hooligans and mess up the place," said a female stall helper who declined to be named.
Miss Maria Sambajon, 29, the sales manager of a store near the foodcourt, said: "I came to Singapore because it's safe here.
"This is not a cowboy town. And I'm glad the police have taken action."
Laws will help us, say debt collectors
The arrest of the Double Ace Associates debt collectors for unlawful assembly raises the question: Is there a need for laws to govern debt collectors?
In Parliament on Thursday, the MP for West Coast GRC, Ms Foo Mee Har, had asked for laws that govern fair debt collection practices, such as those implemented in Malaysia, Thailand and the US.
In reply, the Senior Minister of State for Law, Ms Indranee Rajah, said a government advisory committee for moneylending is considering whether guidelines are necessary for debt collecting practices.
The committee, which was set up last June, is expected to issue its final report by the end of next month, she said.
The sales manager of Singapore Debt Collection Service, Ms Yvonne Ho, said the situation now is a grey area for debt collectors.
She said that it was best left to the Government to decide if there should be laws governing debt collection.
"It will be good if there are a clearer set of guidelines. We will not be accused of being the bad guy," Ms Ho said.
"We are not scared and will not be affected if there are new laws because we do our things differently from the others."
Mr K.C. Liew, the director of debt recovery agency RCM, said new guidelines would help to "facilitate" their work.
"Sometimes, the police don't understand what we do. They assume we are the bullies while the debtors are the victims. It's not always the case," said the 52-year-old.
A debt collector, who wanted to be known only as Justin and has been in the industry for more than a decade, said that any new law must also be fair to debt collectors.
"The laws must not be drafted based on accounts of debtors but also the debt collectors, so it will be fair to both parties," said the director of Xcellent Debt Recovery.
- FOO JIE YING