Migrant worker found guilty of role in running illegal dorm that caught fire in 2015
A construction worker involved in the running of an illegal dormitory, which caught fire in 2015, pleaded guilty to three charges on Tuesday (Jan 4) including doing paid work without a valid pass and the unauthorised development of land.
Another two charges that include committing a rash act to endanger lives was taken into consideration for Raihan Jahir's sentencing on Thursday (Jan 6).
The fire in a Geylang shophouse on April 3, 2015, killed two migrant workers and injured three others.
Investigations showed the dormitory's operators had thwarted fire safety inspections just over a week earlier, which could have prevented the deadly fire.
Illegal dormitory operator Neo Wee Seng, 47, was earlier charged and court proceedings are under way.
The court heard that 33 workers paid around $200 per month to rent a bed space at 86A Lorong 6, Geylang between December 2014 to April 2015.
The space was rented by M/S HKH Construction since September 2014, who sub-leased it to Neo from another company, Sim Hua, without informing the landlord.
Without permission, Neo turned the shophouse, which was approved only for residential purposes, into a dormitory and split it into 12 rooms with double beds, creating space for 53 beds.
For a $150 rental rebate each month, Raihan, 43, an employee of Amway Aluminium Construction, was asked to clean the premises and collect rent from other workers residing there.
The utility bill for the premises was under his name, and Raihan also acted as an agent by sourcing for workers to stay at the premises, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Timotheus Koh, Goh Qi Shuen and Samuel Yap.
"He would thus only need to pay $70 for his rent. He also continued to claim $220 from his employer for accommodation expenses and as such, was able to pocket the remaining $150 for his personal use," said DPP Koh.
Raihan, who stayed at the shophouse since 2013 before Neo took over, continued to be paid to help run the place even after he moved out in January 2015.
On March 23, 2015, Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officers informed the landlord that there would be a fire safety enforcement check on March 25.
Neo knew about the inspection and called Raihan to move all residents out of the premises before the officers arrived.
Raihan did as he was told, obstructing the officers from doing their duty, thus hiding the true state of the premises, said the prosecution.
SCDF officers found no violations when they inspected the shophouse.
Just over a week later, a fire - believed to be from an electrical defect - broke out at the second floor. Two workers died of smoke inhalation.
"If the inspection had not been thwarted, the checks would have been done and it could have prevented the fire," said DPP Koh.
Urging the judge to hand Raihan a jail sentence of two to four weeks' imprisonment and a fine of $35,000 to $55,000, he added that Raihan played a key role in assisting Neo. The judge adjourned the sentencing to Thursday.
Those found guilty of carrying out development of any land outside a conservation area without permission can be fined a maximum of $200,000.