SINGAPORE — A man found a toy grenade lying on its side near Istana Park and placed it upright just to see how people would react to the suspicious-looking object. While he insists he meant no harm, he was fined a hefty S$4,500 for threatening behaviour.
On Wednesday, July 24, 59-year-old Elankovan Marimuthu was fined S$4,500 by District Judge May Mesenas. The heavy fine is nothing compared to what Elankovan would have had to face if the prosecution had not reduced the charge from a more serious one under the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Regulations, which carries maximum penalties of 10 years’ jail time, a S$500,000 fine, or both.
It was 7am on Nov. 3, 2017, when Elankovan, who worked as a cleaner, chanced upon a toy grenade lying on its side near a fire hydrant along Penang Lane. Elankovan was doing his rounds, cleaning Istana Park and the areas surrounding it.
Instead of removing the toy from the ground, especially considering what it looked like, he decided instead to stand it up, using a pair of cleaning tongs to do so. Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran told the court that Elankovan then left the scene.
The prosecutor noted that Elankovan did what he did out or curiosity — he wanted to see how the public would react upon discovering the controversial-looking item.
That same day, at around 2.05pm, two motorists noticed the toy grenade standing beside the fire hydrant at the junction of Penang Lane and Orchard Road and thinking it was real, they notified the police.
What happened next was a serious response from different units of the Singapore Police Force — 39 persons skilled in handling situations of this nature were immediately deployed to the scene, which was cordoned off with police tape.
Eight members of the Singapore Armed Forces Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosive Defence Group joined the police and other officers. All surrounding areas, including Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, were thoroughly swept, following protocol.
Police advisories were sent out to warn the public to stay clear of the area. Traffic was rerouted so that members of the public would not come in close proximity to the (then unidentified as a toy) grenade. For half an hour, Penang Lane was closed completely, and then partially blocked off to traffic for 45 minutes.
This caused a lot of traffic congestion, and during this time, the police hotline received many calls from motorists complaining of the hold up.
At around 5pm, after extensive work by the officers on the scene, it was determined that the item was not a real grenade but a toy. The toy grenade was forfeited to the police for disposal and Penang Lane was reopened to the public.
While the person who placed the toy grenade on the ground in the first place has not been identified, CCTV footage of the area confirmed that it was Elankovan who set the toy grenade upright and left it there.
Elankovan admitted to repositioning the toy and cited his reason for doing so as simply wanting to see how the public would react to seeing what they might think was a real grenade. He pleaded guilty to one charge under the Protection from Harassment Act of using threatening behaviour, defined as behaviour likely to cause alarm.
Elankovan could have been fined a maximum of S$5,000 for his offence.
The prosecution asked for a fine of S$4,500, justifying the hefty amount by citing that in today’s world, the “public message” to everyone is that all suspicious items or behaviour of this kind must be reported to the authorities as a security risk, and Elankovan not only failed to report the item but then turned it into his own “little game”.
Elankovan’s joke could have caused public alarm, was in an area filled with tourists and passersby, caused inconvenience to the public and wasted public resources and officers’ time.
While the prosecution reiterated that such an act deserved to be met with serious penalties, defence lawyer Rajan Supramaniam told the court that his client was not highly educated and just wanted to end this “unfortunate chapter” in his life.
The defence said that Elankovan “has truly learnt a hard and bitter lesson as a result of his foolish and wrongful actions”. After the incident, Elankovan was redesignated as a senior machine operator. He has worked with Veolia ES Singapore Industrial for 17 years.
“Hopefully this is a lesson learned for you, not to be taken lightly,” said District Judge Mesenas.