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Migrant worker jailed, fined for role in running illegal dormitory that caught fire in 2015

A construction worker who was involved in the running of an illegal dormitory that caught fire in 2015 was jailed for two weeks and fined $24,000 on Thursday (Jan 6).

Raihan Jahir pleaded guilty on Tuesday (Jan 4) to three charges that included doing paid work without a valid pass and the unauthorised development of land.

Another two charges, including committing a rash act to endanger lives, were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Raihan, 43, a Bangladesh national, will have to serve an additional six weeks in jail if he is unable to pay the fine.

The fire in a Geylang shophouse on April 3, 2015, killed two migrant workers and injured three others.

Investigations showed that the dormitory's operator 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.

A total of 33 workers lived at 86A Lorong 6 Geylang between December 2014 and April 2015, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Timotheus Koh, Goh Qi Shuen and Samuel Yap.

The space was rented by M/S HKH Construction since September 2014, which sub-leased it to Neo, who is from another company, Sim Hua, without informing the landlord.

Without approval, Neo turned the shophouse, which was meant only for residential purposes, into a dormitory with multiple rooms and 53 beds.

For a $150 rental rebate each month, Raihan, an employee of Amway Aluminium Construction, cleaned the area, collected rent from workers and looked for other workers keen to stay at the premises.

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 instructed Raihan to move all the residents out of the premises. Raihan also obstructed the officers from doing their duty as it hid 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 on 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.

Deputy Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie said Raihan also knew that as a work permit holder, it was an offence for him to earn extra income, but assisted with the running of the illegal dormitory anyway.

His employers were not aware of his activities.

The judge agreed with the defence that Raihan's role in the changes to the premises were limited.

She said she had to consider the lives lost during sentencing and that Raihan was aware the premises were being used illegally as a dormitory.

Those found guilty of carrying out development of any land outside a conservation area without permission can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to 12 months.

FOREIGN WORKERSCONSTRUCTION SECTORFIRESCOURT & CRIME