Singapore sentences Swiss man to caning for spraying graffiti on subway car

By Alex Kennedy, AP
Friday, June 25, 2010

Singapore sentences Swiss to caning for graffiti

SINGAPORE — Singapore sentenced a Swiss man to three strokes of a cane and five months in prison Friday for spray-painting graffiti on a subway car, reinforcing the city-state’s reputation for severely punishing minor crimes.

Oliver Fricker, 32, pleaded guilty earlier in the day to one count each of vandalism and trespassing for breaking into a train depot with an accomplice and drawing graffiti on two subway carriages on May 16.

Fricker’s lawyer, Derek Kang, said his client would appeal the punishment.

“He feels the sentence is too high, and so do I,” Kang told reporters.

Fricker, who had been free on bail of 100,000 Singapore dollars ($72,000), was immediately taken into custody by court police. The information technology consultant didn’t speak to the media. He was silent and motionless throughout the hearing, but sighed heavily as he was led away.

“The offenses were planned and carefully executed,” said Senior District Judge See Kee Oon. “These were not impulsive displays of youthful bravado.”

Vandalism in Singapore carries a mandatory three to eight strokes of a cane and a fine of up to SG$2,000 Singapore dollars ($1,437) or up to three years in jail.

Singapore boasts one of the lowest violent crime rates and highest standards of living in the world, but human rights groups often criticize the government for excessive punishments such as hanging drug couriers. Singapore also reiterated a ban on the sale of chewing gum this year and announced a crackdown on littering last month.

Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism in 1994 — ignoring pleas for leniency by then-President Bill Clinton — in a case that drew international attention to the country’s harsh punishments.

Fay, who was 18 at the time, was sentenced to six cane strokes and four months in jail.

The Swiss Embassy in Singapore is in contact with Fricker’s family, said spokeswoman Sandra Chawla-Gantenbein.

“All Swiss nationals living in Singapore must expect to comply with the law,” Chawla-Gantenbein said after the sentencing. “Corporal punishment is not part of the Swiss legal system.”

Prosecutors said Fricker, who has worked in Singapore since 2008, committed the crimes with Lloyd Dane Alexander, a British national based in Hong Kong. Police issued an arrest warrant for Alexander, 29, earlier this month, and prosecutors said he fled last month to Hong Kong.

Fricker and Alexander cut through a security fence and caused about SG$11,000 ($7,900) of damage by painting “McKoy Banos” on a train car, prosecutors said. Kang said Fricker agreed to pay all damages.

The “McKoy Banos” slogan has appeared on graffiti found throughout the world. Fricker’s lawyer said his client had copied the name after seeing it elsewhere.

Fricker and Alexander first met in Australia in 1997 and during his time in Singapore, Fricker spray-painted at one of Singapore’s government-sanctioned graffiti walls, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors didn’t specify how Fricker was identified, saying only their evidence came from police investigations.

Kang argued during the sentencing hearing that Fricker was by persuaded by Alexander to commit the crimes “while inebriated” after consuming “several beers.”

“It was committed for fun, not malice,” Kang said. “It was purely graphic art.”

Prosecutors pointed out Fricker admitted to bringing the wire cutter used to breach the fence and joined Alexander in scouting the location earlier in the day.

Fricker and Alexander were involved in “graffiti tourism” as part of a group of international underground artists who travel the world seeking new places to tag, said prosecutor Sharon Lim.

“The defendant acted brazenly to add Singapore to his trophies,” Lim said. “This is not a mere prank.”

Singapore’s subway operator, SMRT Corp., didn’t report the incident to police for two days because staff thought the brightly colored graffiti was an advertisement.

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