Guilt over sham marriage gave him away
S'porean in bogus union with Vietnamese had to put on act during marriage registration
They spent their first "date" chatting about their hobbies and interests in a Japanese restaurant.
By their fourth meeting, they were married.
This was not because it was a case of "love at first sight", but because they were entering a marriage of convenience and were preparing each other with answers for an interview which would take place when they had to register their union.
Singaporean Soh Chin Chai, 38, and Vietnamese national Dang Thi Hoang, 28, married in March last year.
The Vietnamese national wanted to secure a job in Singapore, while Mr Soh, who was strapped for cash, was promised $2,700 as part of the deal and $400 for each successful visit pass application secured for his "wife".
He confessed to the sham marriage and was jailed for six months in September last year, while his "wife" was jailed for eight months.
Mr Soh, who has since started life anew after his release from prison in March, told The New Paper last Friday: "I was told that even if we got caught, it would be a few weeks in jail at most, so I didn't think about the consequences."
He recalled how he was working as a club manager after being released from an earlier prison sentence in 2012 for drug consumption, and got to know a man who introduced him to his "fake wife".
Mr Soh had previously been in and out of jail 11 times for various criminal offences such as vehicle theft, snatch theft and criminal breach of trust.
He said: "I tried to make a living, but the pay wasn't enough for my daily expenses. So I thought why not (get involved in the sham union)."
His life did not change after they got "married".
Mr Soh said: "We weren't friends and we didn't interact much. All she needed to do was to put some clothes at my home. I didn't even need to change my single bed to a double one."
When the time came for them to register their marriage, Mr Soh readily admitted that he did not even bother to put on his best clothes for the ceremony, which was held in a cafe at Fort Canning.
He recounted: "I wore black pants and a black shirt, while she wore a simple dress. I don't remember its colour. But we had to kiss because we were putting on a show."
To prepare for the interview before they got married, the couple had to study and memorise the information they had exchanged. They passed the interview without any problems.
Mr Soh recounted: "We came up with a cover story of how we met and fell in love. We thought that as long as we covered the loopholes, we wouldn't be found out."
But their cover was blown six months into the marriage in September when guilt compelled Mr Soh to come clean about the sham marriage to an officer during a routine urine test, which was mandatory because of his previous drug offences.
He said: "The officer didn't ask me anything, I just told them that I didn't want to lie anymore and I didn't want to continue staying in the dark. I wanted to start a new life."
After his release, Mr Soh worked at pork rib soup eatery Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, first as a dishwasher, before learning to take orders and cook.
Soon Huat Bak Ku Teh is a social enterprise that gives ex-offenders job opportunities. Mr Soh is now the assistant manager of the joint's newest outlet at MacPherson Road.
Despite his past, Mr Soh said that he can look forward to the future because of friends and family around him.
He has never known his biological parents and grew up in a foster family. His foster dad and mum died when he was five and 16 respectively and he got involved in neighbourhood gangs, who introduced him to the world of drugs and crime.
He has two children aged 14 and 15 from his first marriage and was divorced in 2005. He contacts them occasionally, but admits that he is not on good terms with his ex-wife.
Mr Soh credits Mr Jabez Tan, the founder of Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh, and his foster sister for giving him support and encouragement.
"Despite my past, I have hope now. Jabez trusts me and in return, I do not want to break his trust," he said.
Criminal and divorce lawyers whom The New Paper spoke to said that in the case of a sham marriage, the union is not automatically annulled even after the parties involved have been sentenced. Indeed, one of the parties has to initiate an annulment or a divorce.
Criminal lawyer Ravinderpal Singh of Kalco Law LLC said: "The lawyers representing the parties will advise them to annul the marriage, if not they will still be reflected as married. Usually, the same lawyers will serve the annulment papers."
In Mr Soh's case, he was not represented by a lawyer and has not signed any annulment papers, therefore he is still married to the Vietnamese national. Mr Soh said that he will seek legal help for the annulment process.
We came up with a cover story of how we met and fell in love. We thought that as long as we covered the loopholes, we wouldn't be found out.
- Mr Soh Chin Chai
56 convictions for sham marriages this year
The number of convictions for sham marriages and making false statements was 56 for the first four months of this year, reported The Straits Times.
The figure is about 20 per cent of last year's total, but for a period covering a third of the year.
This numbers come after the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority amended the Immigration Act in 2012 to strengthen Singapore's border security and impose tougher penalties for people entering marriages of convenience.
Cases involving sham marriages now carry a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and a 10-year jail term.
Last year, 284 people were convicted for sham marriages and for making false declarations.