UPDATE: Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam spoke about the writer of the Nikkei commentary and his pending charges related to obscene materials.
SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has slammed a recent Nikkei Asian Review commentary on the ongoing KTV COVID cluster as "full of inaccuracies" and based on "imagined realities".
"Your correspondent’s stance appears to be based on a stern disapproval of illegal sexual activity. We commend his high ideals. But his comments on public policies need to be based on facts, not imagined realities," said MHA spokesman Sam Tee on Wednesday.
The ministry was responding to a 23 July article entitled “The institutional failures behind Singapore's latest COVID outbreak”. As of Wednesday, a total of 247 cases have been linked to the KTV joints cluster, making it the second largest cluster in Singapore.
With questions raised about enforcement efforts against KTV joints that had breached safe management measures, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam denied in Parliament on Monday that the government had been "in cahoots" with the KTV operators.
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, also told reporters that enforcement remains a "cat and mouse" game, with illegal gatherings taking place in many other settings too.
'Full of inaccuracies'
Tee noted that the Nikkei article had said "most KTVs" in Singapore are fronts for money laundering or “illegal brothels run by organised crime cartels”, but did not explain how it came to this conclusion.
"This is false," said Tee, noting Singapore's laws against organised crime, money laundering, and trafficking-in-persons, and that the Republic is "one of the least likely places in the world to find organised crime syndicates running operations".
Acknowledging that authorities are aware that sex workers visit KTVs and other places to solicit patrons, Tee said it cannot prevent people from meeting in these places. However, any sexual activity in these premises will be a breach of licensing conditions.
Authorities are also aware that some visitors to Singapore seek entry for purposes of prostitution. "While we take all efforts to turn away dubious travellers, there is no fool-proof way of determining this upfront."
From 2018 to 2020, the Police checked nearly 3,000 nightlife outlets, and arrested over 1,000 persons. Where laws were breached, operators were punished, and foreign offenders deported.
Regular enforcement carried out
Tee added that the article's allegation that KTVs were allowed to reopen “without explanation” is "also false". He reiterated Shanmugam's explanation in Parliament that some nightlife outlets, including KTV joints, were allowed to pivot to F&B outlets as many livelihoods were at risk.
"Your correspondent made sweeping statements, without basic checks."
Furthermore, Tee said, the article's claim that the government has “belatedly increased punitive raids” on KTVs in the wake of the COVID outbreak is untrue. Since October 2020, the Police have conducted over 200 operations in addition to operations by other agencies.
The explanation for the removal of “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” category from the Familial Ties Lane (for immigration) has also been set out, contrary to the article's claim of an abrupt removal.
"The KTV cluster that your article refers to has been swiftly contained, with about five new cases linked to it each day from 22 to 26 July, and declining," added Tee.
'Political hack job'
In a Facebook post on Thursday (29 July), Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam noted that Andy Wong, the writer of the commentary, has been charged with multiple counts of possessing obscene films and transmitting obscene materials in a sex-themed chat group.
The government will maintain its "tough approach to sexual crimes", Shanmugam said.
On Wednesday, four men were charged over their alleged involvement in a Telegram chat group called “Sam’s lots of CB Collection” that circulated sexually explicit content.
Wong, 28, Lincoln Anthony Fernandez, 30, Tan Yeow Chong, 40, and Yee Wing Kay, 46, were each handed charges under the Films Act and under the Penal Code for transmitting or possessing obscene material.
Wong was handed six charges of possessing 1,880 obscene images in six different devices, and five charges of possessing a total of 2,406 obscene videos across five devices at a flat in Jurong West.
Shanmugam said, "We are left to wonder if the criminal investigation against him was the reason for his diatribe based on falsehoods; and the extent to which he was doing a political hack job (his political affiliation is public). Surprising also that Nikkei will publish such an article."
Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at http://t.me/YahooSingapore
More Singapore stories:
Watch news videos on Yahoo: