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Homesingapore3 men jailed after coming to Singapore to steal from donation boxes...

3 men jailed after coming to Singapore to steal from donation boxes at churches, temples

SINGAPORE: Three men from China came to Singapore to steal from churches and temples using a “fishing” method they had learnt from Douyin videos.

Zou Fangshou, 32, Qin Xiaonuo, 29, and Qin Chaoban, 38, were sentenced to seven months’ jail each on Thursday (Nov 2).

They each pleaded guilty to one charge of theft with common intention, amounting to S$1,479 (US$1,082) in cash shared among them and smaller amounts of other currencies such as US and Hong Kong dollars.

The court heard that the trio had watched Douyin videos in China about how to steal from a donation box.

The method featured a string that was tied around a piece of metal, with sticky tape pasted on it. When the piece of metal with sticky tape was lowered into the hole of a donation box, money bills would stick to the exposed sticky part of the tape, allowing one to “fish” for money bills.

Zou bought a black bag in China that had a hole and a zipper. It was modified to cover up the action of stealing, as the thief would place the bag over the mouth of the donation box and pretend to be rummaging through the bag, when in reality he was fishing for money.

The trio arrived in Singapore on social visit passes on Sep 6 this year. They bought pieces of metal, string and tapes from shops near their hotel and returned to their room to practise the method.

On Sep 7 and Sep 8, Zou used his mobile phone to locate churches and temples in Singapore to steal from. The three of them then took taxis to their targeted locations.

Over the two days, the trio visited three churches, two temples and one monastery in places like Thomson Road, Punggol and Woodlands.

They took turns to “fish” for money from the donation boxes and to keep a lookout, communicating with each other using their mobile phones.

Closed-circuit television cameras caught them stealing from the donation boxes.

Several employees in the places of worship noticed the three men who were loitering suspiciously and looking around, and they made police reports.

The photos of the three men were also shared in a WhatsApp chat group containing church staff and volunteers across Singapore, warning each other about them.

At the Church of the Transfiguration, Zou realised that an employee was watching the three of them and felt that something was wrong.

Afraid of getting caught, Zou threw the makeshift fishing device into the river to dispose of the evidence. 

Once they felt they were in the clear, Qin found another wooden stick, intending to use it for subsequent “fishing” operations.

The police traced the three men back to their hotel and arrested them.

They seized multiple items from the trio, including their clothes, the stick, the phones used, the black bag with the hole at the bottom, and money in various currencies. Many of the notes had a sticky substance on them.

The three men admitted to stealing S$1,479, US$16, RM 63, 26.05 yuan, CAD$10, HK$100 and 100 Omani Baisa from donation boxes.

They said they had already spent some of the stolen money on their expenses such as taxi fares. No restitution has been made.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Jocelyn Teo sought seven to nine months’ jail each for the three men, saying it was necessary to prevent foreigners from seeing Singapore as an easy target to perpetrate crimes.

There was a transnational element to their crimes, and they were group offences, with six places of worship visited in two days.

In mitigation, the men asked for leniency. In particular, Zou admitted to his guilt and said he did not know the law, asking for leniency. The judge asked him if stealing from a temple in China would be correct.

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