SINGAPORE: Four foreign students from India involved in a shoplifting scheme at the popular Japanese clothing brand Uniqlo on Orchard Road were sentenced to prison on Wednesday (22 Nov).

The group, consisting of more than ten individuals, allegedly conspired to remove price tags on clothes totalling approximately $1,700 and pay for a bag at the automatic checkout counter while concealing the stolen clothes in the bag.

The convicted individuals, identified as Chauhan Ruchi Sanjaykumar, Christian Arpita Arvindbhai, Brahmbhatt Komal Chetankumar, and Kuvadiya Milan Ghansyambhai, pleaded guilty to charges of theft and public nuisance. Their sentences ranged from 40 to 65 days. Two other defendants, Hun Smit Ashokbhai and Shihora Ridham Mukeshbhai, have entered the pretrial conference stage.

According to court documents, the students included more than ten people, with six individuals arrested so far. The accused, all Indian students on student passes attending different local universities, shared a residence rented from the same landlord, Sojitra Bhavik Kishorbhai, who, along with another individual named Patel Vishalbhai, allegedly masterminded the criminal operation.

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The thefts occurred on two occasions, with the group stealing 64 pieces of clothing worth $1,788.60 on Oct 12 and attempting to steal 72 pieces worth $2,271.90 on Oct 16. The perpetrators strategically removed price tags to avoid detection, paid for bags at the self-service checkout and then left the store with stolen goods hidden in the bags.

The criminal enterprise unravelled when security at Uniqlo noticed suspicious behaviour during the second attempt. Store security intercepted the perpetrators, leading to their attempt being foiled. The police were subsequently alerted, and a subsequent investigation revealed the extent of the criminal operation.

Some members had already left Singapore by the time the arrests were launched.

During the court proceedings, several defendants cried as they pleaded guilty, expressing remorse for their actions. They claimed their landlords threatened them with rent increases and asserted they had no local connections for support.

Ashokbhai, one of the defendants, admitted, “I admit that I made a mistake. We were forced to commit the crime.” He further detailed the landlord’s coercive tactics: “Even if I move out of this house, he will make sure that I can’t find any other place to live.”

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Komal, another defendant, claimed ignorance about the criminal intent, saying, “I didn’t even know we were going to Uniqlo. I followed the instructions until I got home. It was stolen.”

The investigation and court case are ongoing,