Thursday, August 20, 2009

More on loan sharks in Singapore

I've got a more in-depth story on the loan shark problem in Singapore in the Asia Sentinel (extract below), which looks at why Singaporeans are turning to illegal money-lenders and what can be done to fight the surging intimidation and violence.

When the Singapore police nailed four suspected members of a loan-sharking syndicate on July 21, they seized the usual paraphernalia: mobile phones and prepaid SIM cards and the time-honored tools of intimidation such as paint to be splashed on the doors of bad debtors and superglue to lock them inside their apartments.

But while loan sharks – or Ah Longs as they are known – have long been a ubiquitous presence on Singapore's sprawling public housing estates, this gang is one of a growing number taking bully-boy tactics to the next level.

One of the members, according to the police, had been sending bullets to borrowers in an attempt to scare them into paying up. The syndicate, which police said was responsible for more than 600 harassment cases, were said to have also been terrorizing the wider community by starting fires outside the apartments of bad debtors.

Cynthia Phua, an MP from the ruling People's Action Party, told local media in a recent interview that the level of harassment in her constituency in eastern Singapore has surged. "It is also more violent," she said. "We are seeing things we did not see before, like petrol bombs and innocent neighbors being harassed."

In a city-state that proudly boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Asia, such violence was once rare. But, worryingly for the government and the vast majority of the population who live in the public housing estates, it is becoming increasingly widespread as the economic crisis forces more people to turn to loan sharks.

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