40 years go on this date, February 28, 1975, 7 of the 9 killers in the Gold Bar murders of December 29, 1971 were executed by hanging in Changi Prison, Singapore.
Gold Bar Murders
In December 1972, a group of 10 men killed businessman Ngo Cheng Poh and his employees, Leong Chin Woo and Ang Boon Chai, and robbed them of 120 gold bars. Known as the "Gold Bar Murders", it is one of Singapore's more prominent criminal cases. The men responsible were Andrew Chou Hock Guan, his brother David Chou Hock Heng, Augustine Ang, Peter Lim Swee Guan, Alex Yau Hean Thye, Richard James, Stephen Francis, Konesekaran Nagalingam, Ringo Lee Chiew Chwee and Stephen Lee Hock Khoon. Of the group, Augustine Ang was detained indefinitely without trial, and Ringo Lee and Stephen Lee were detained at the president's pleasure as they were under the age of 18. The remaining seven men were hanged on 28 February 1975.
Andrew Chou worked as a ground operations supervisor with Air Vietnam in Singapore. His job enabled him to pass through airport security with ease, and allowed him to establish connections with Air Vietnam staff and aircrew. He became involved in smuggling gold for three syndicates in Singapore: Kee Guan Import-Export Co., Eastern Watch Co. and Lee Tong Heng Import and Export. The gold was brought to Chou’s house, No. 19 Chepstow Close, Serangoon Gardens, to be taken to the airport for loading. In return, he would receive US$5 from the crew members and US$10 from the local consignee for each gold bar.
However, in October 1971, a sum of US$235,000 that had arrived on an Air Vietnam flight went missing. The money was meant to be payment for the gold to the three syndicates and they pressured Chou to find the missing money. Chou suspected that some of the aircrew had stolen the money and was able to recover most of it, but relations with the syndicates were strained after this incident. The syndicates no longer trusted him and no longer sent as many gold consignments for export. Eastern Watch Co. stopped exporting gold through Chou, Lee Tong Heng Import and Export sent only one consignment, while Kee Guan Import-Export Co. continued to work with Chou but sent smaller consignments.
Description of events
With his income from gold smuggling considerably reduced, Chou plotted with his brother, Peter Lim and Augustine Ang to rob and kill whoever sent the next consignment of gold for export. Lim and Ang were tasked with recruiting some extra help, offering S$20,000 each for the job.
On 29 December 1971, Chou received a call from Ngo Cheng Poh, his contact from Kee Guan Import-Export Co. informing him of the next consignment delivery, in which 120 gold bars (worth S$500,000) were to be delivered to Chou’s house later that night. Chou notified Augustine Ang and all the recruits gathered at Chou’s house. At about midnight, Ngo arrived together with his two employees, Leong Chin Woo and Ang Boon Chai. The Chou brothers greeted Ngo and Leong while Ngo’s other employee, Ang, waited in the car. Augustine Ang was called out to help count the gold, while the others hid in Chou's kitchen. As Ngo and Leong watched Ang count the gold, the brothers attacked them from behind, and the other accomplices hiding in the kitchen came out to help. After Ngo and Leong had been killed, Chou dealt with Ngo's other employee similarly.
The dead bodies were put into Leong’s car and dumped in thick sludge beside a disused mining pond in Jalan Lembah Bedok. Ngo’s car was disposed of by the other accomplices. The Chou brothers and Ang brought the gold to Catherine Ang (unrelated), a contact who was to arrange for the gold to be sold. Chou called Ngo’s wife, claiming that Ngo and his employees had not delivered the gold.
On 30 December, the police discovered the bodies at Jalan Tiga Ratus following an anonymous tip. Police retrieved 115 gold bars from the home of Catherine Ang, while another five gold bars were found in David Chou’s office at Bayer Singapore Pte. Ltd.
Nine of the 10 men were brought to trial: the Chou brothers, Lim, Yau, Ringo Lee, James, Francis, Nagalingam, Stephen Lee. All nine pleaded not guilty to three joint charges of causing the death of Ngo, Leong and Ang.
Augustine Ang confessed to being an accomplice and participant in the murder of the three men. He became the key prosecution witness in order to save his own life. The murder charges against him were thus withdrawn and he was discharged. However, the discharge did not amount to an acquittal. Ang was arrested and detained under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allows the government to detain dangerous criminals without trial for an indefinite period.
In December 1972, Solicitor-General A. W. Ghows made his final submission to Justice Chua and Justice Choor Singh that all nine accused should be found guilty as charged. The accused tried to appeal against the verdict twice, first to the Appeal Court that all nine accused did not have the common objective of killing the victims. The next appeal was made to the Privy Council. Both appeals were unsuccessful. As a last resort, they appealed to President Benjamin Sheares for clemency, but in February 1975, it was reported that the president had rejected their petitions.
Ringo Lee Chiew Chwee and Stephen Lee Hock Khoon escaped the death penalty because they were both under 18 at the time of the murders. They were ordered to be detained at the president’s pleasure. The other seven men, having been found guilty and unsuccessful in their appeals and clemency petitions, were hanged in Changi Prison on 28 February 1975.
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