Singapore

Harsher penalties for owners of homes used as ‘pop-up’ brothels

The authorities will have more powers to act against owners of residential premises used as "pop-up" brothels that move from one unit to another, and against online vice syndicates, under changes to the Women's Charter passed in Parliament yesterday.

The changes will also target those who try to evade the law by moving their vice operations overseas. Both new and repeat offenders will be slapped with higher fines and longer jail terms, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling.

Between 2015 and last year, seven in 10 foreign women arrested for online vice were providing sexual services in residential estates, she added.

An owner or tenant who rents out, or sub-lets, premises which are used as a brothel will be criminally liable, unless they can show they had no knowledge and could not have, with reasonable diligence, ascertained that the place was to be used for such a purpose.

"Reasonable diligence" means owners and tenants should conduct identity checks of prospective tenants or sub-tenants through face-to-face interviews. If they are overseas, owners should engage an agent to conduct face-to-face interviews on their behalf.

The changes are necessary because syndicates often exploit the lack of checks at the point of leasing, she said.

Property agents who do not conduct checks may be fined, or have their registration suspended or revoked by the Council for Estate Agencies .

Other changes include making people based outside Singapore liable if they facilitate the provision of sexual services here through remote communication services, such as websites or instant messaging apps.

Maximum penalties will be raised too. Those who live off prostitutes' earnings could face a mandatory jail term of up to seven years and a $100,000 fine, up from the current five-year jail term and fine of up to $10,000. Repeat offenders face a mandatory jail term of up to 10 years and a fine of $150,000, up from the current maximum fine of $10,000.

FOR MORE, READ THE STRAITS TIMES

COURT & CRIME