36 nabbed in suspected brothels in HDB heartland
About a month ago, her immediate neighbours of eight years moved out after renting out their five-room flat in Woodlands.
Soon after the tenants moved in, their common corridor on the fourth storey became a daily hive of activity. Men would pace up and down while looking at their mobile phones.
The resident, who wanted to be known only as Madam K, told The New Paper yesterday that her husband also saw women, who lived in the flat, leaving in the middle of the night, never to return. Other women would then move in.
The teacher in her 40s suspected the flat could be a front for prostitution and was about to make a police report when a police raid confirmed that it was being used as a brothel.
The raid was part of an islandwide operation in which 36 people were arrested at suspected brothels in the HDB heartland on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The suspects, comprising two men and 34 women aged between 21 and 48, were allegedly involved in vice-related activities in residential areas, the police said in a statement yesterday.
Officers from the Ang Mo Kio Division, Jurong Division and Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raided multiple locations, including Woodlands, Sembawang, Sengkang, Jurong West, Yishun, Chinatown and River Valley.
Items such as boxes of condoms, lubricants, mobile phones, cash, contraband cigarettes and work documents, believed to be forged, were seized.
The statement said preliminary investigations revealed that the women had advertised their sexual services online and carried out vice-related activities in residential units.
The owners of the units will be investigated and the police will also alert the Housing Board (HDB) for follow-up action.
KEPT HEADS LOW
Lianhe Wanbao and Shin Min Daily News, which were present at some of the raids, reported that most of the female suspects kept their heads low and used their hair to cover their faces.
But some boldly faced the cameras and looked around at the police and reporters.
One suspect even complained to a police officer that it was uncomfortable for her to carry her sling bag while handcuffed.
Lianhe Wanbao quoted a suspect as saying that customers would view pictures of the women online before calling to arrange for sessions.
The customers would be told of the unit number when they arrived at the void deck of the block.
Another suspect told Shin Min Daily News that she charged about $300 per session and had five to six customers a day.
When contacted, the owner of one of the raided units said he had rented out his flat two months ago and had just collected the rent from a man on Tuesday.
He said he had no idea his flat unit was being used as a brothel.
The living room of the five-room flat in Woodlands was empty, apart from a couple of dismantled bed frames and several towels on the floor, Shin Min Daily News reported.
The kitchen was also empty, except for a few fruits in the refrigerator.
The door of one bedroom had signs of being forced open, likely because its occupants refused to open the door for the police, Shin Min Daily News said.
Madam K told TNP that while there were always strange men on the corridor, her family could not tell if anything was going on in their neighbour's flat.
"These things were done very hush-hush and we didn't hear any sounds," she said.
Madam K, who has young children, said she was shocked that such things were going on just next door to them.
"It's disgusting and I'm grossed out. I feel unsafe, especially for my kids. I don't want such people anywhere near them."
Another neighbour, Madam Ain, 28, said: "I've lived here for 16 years and the neighbours recognise each other.
"That's why I got a bit suspicious when strangers started loitering on our corridor and at the void deck, especially on weekends."
The tax officer added: "I expect HDB estates to be safe. We can't stand for such things to be happening in our estate."
The raid on a Sembawang four-room flat not only caught two sex workers off guard, but three potential customers as well.
The men, who looked local and in their 30s, were sitting on a sofa in the living room when the police broke in.
Shin Min Daily News reported that they were taken aback but agreed to assist the police in their investigations.
Lianhe Wanbao said waste baskets in the bedrooms were filled with used tissue paper. On the dining table were empty beer cans and a box of pregnancy test kits.
When TNP went to the Jurong West executive flat that was raided, the immediate neighbours were not home.
A resident living one floor above, Mr Tony Teng, 40, said he had no idea of the vice activities until he saw a police vehicle at the bottom of the block on Tuesday.
"When I saw about five to six women being led away, I figured it must have had something to do with prostitution," the IT specialist said in Mandarin.
"I have heard of such activity elsewhere but I never expected it to happen in my own block."
He said that if he saw any such suspicious activities, he would report them to the police.
"I think everyone needs to be more vigilant and help the police so that they can take action and prevent such things from happening again."
Shin Min Daily News reported that when the police raided the unit, the sex workers were having their dinner.
There were two single beds in the middle of the living room. A piece of luggage in the unit had a sticker that showed that it had arrived in Singapore last month.
NO EFFORT SPARED
Superintendent Lawrence Eng, who heads CID's specialised crime branch, said: "The police will spare no effort in clamping down on syndicated vice activities, especially those operating in the heartland."
He also advised home owners to be diligent in ensuring their tenants do not carry out illicit vice activities in their units.
Anyone convicted of acting as the tenant, lessee or occupier or person in charge of a brothel and keeping, managing or assisting in the management of a brothel can be jailed up to five years or fined up to $10,000, or both.
Anyone who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person can also be jailed up to five years and fined up to $10,000.
- Additional reporting by Tryne Ong
DISTURBING BUT NOT WIDESPREAD
Vice activities do not have a place in society and especially not in the heartland, said Member of Parliament Alvin Yeo, who also sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Home Affairs and Law.
"It's a good thing that the police were alert. We won't want such activities coming into contact with our children," he said.
MP Vikram Nair, who is also in the Home Affairs and Law GPC, said it was very disturbing that such activities were happening in the HDB heartland.
"It's completely wrong, even though I don't think it's widespread," he said.
"People get shocked and upset that such things happen. I definitely do not approve of such activities in the community."
He added that he has faith in the law to tackle the problem.
"It has been said that prostitution is the oldest profession and there's no way to get rid of it fully," he added.
"But enforcing the law makes all the difference and I think the law is sufficient to prosecute the offenders."
Mr Yeo said that residents are best placed to keep such activities away from the heartland.
"The neighbours will be able to notice if something suspicious happens, such as strangers always coming and going," he said.
"Make a police report if you notice such things are happening."
- David Sun and Ronald Loh
SLEAZE IN THE HEARTLAND
Four Chinese nationals involved in vice activities in HDB estates were each jailed for 10 weeks to 12 months on Dec 12 last year.
Former bus captain Chen Ping Gen, 32, had plotted with others to live off the earnings of prostitutes and manage an HDB flat in Woodlands as a brothel. He was jailed for 12 months.
His girlfriend, Liang Yadi, 23, was jailed for 10 weeks for helping him live off the earnings of prostitutes.
Two other men, Wan Jin, 23, and Jiang Ying, 28, were jailed for six months and seven months, respectively.
A man and three women were arrested for allegedly carrying out prostitution activities in an HDB flat in Jurong West.
Neighbours had raised concerns about a brothel operating near their homes.
Four women, aged between 17 and 26, were arrested by police for providing sexual services at an HDB flat at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6. A man, 39, was arrested for having paid sex with a minor.
The New Paper uncovered a sex ring where Indonesian men offered massages that included sexual services in flats in Ang Mo Kio and Yishun.
The young men working there advertised their services on an online gay dating portal.
Sixty women were arrested for offences such as vice activities at 32 unlicensed massage parlours in Bedok, Tampines and Marine Parade.