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Singapore Charges 48 in Underage Prostitution Scandal

Updated on
Howard Shaw
Howard Shaw, left, leaves a courthouse where he was formally charged with having paid sex with a prostitute under 18 years old. Source: AFP/Getty Images

A scandal involving a minor selling sex to men in Singapore has expanded to include a former bank executive, a school teacher and the member of a prominent family.

Juerg Buergin, 40, a former executive director of operations at UBS AG in Singapore, and Howard Shaw, 41, part of the family that built a movie production and real estate empire, were among four men charged at the downtown Subordinate Court yesterday for paid sex with an underage prostitute.

The four add to the 44 charged by the police for the same offence earlier this week in a list that included a former grade school principal and police superintendent, according to the Straits Times. The latest charges came one day after ECA International said Singapore kept its ranking as the most livable city in the world for Asian expatriates.

“These charges against important people are an important step, but it’s clearly just touching the surface of a larger problem,” said Bridget Welsh, a political science professor at the Singapore Management University. “The problem that Singapore is facing is that a lot of its economy is moving into the sin areas. The challenge for the government is to strengthen the regulations around the sectors.”

Singapore dropped its four-decade ban on casinos as Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Genting Singapore Plc opened their gaming resorts in the city-state two years ago.

‘Amazing’ Scale

Shaw, who didn’t enter a plea, declined to comment, and Selva K. Naidu, a lawyer at Liberty Law Practice LLP representing Buergin, said his client also hasn’t entered a plea. Buergin is in remand, pending bail of S$15,000 ($11,984), the court was told. He couldn’t be reached for comment. The next hearing for Shaw and Buergin is June 18.

“In this case, the scale is just quite amazing,” said Paulin Straughan, a sociology professor at the National University of Singapore. “All the publicity on the issue would serve to send a very strong signal and warning that even though the minor may be willing, that’s a minor.”

The offence for paid sex with someone under 18 carries a maximum seven-year jail term as well as a fine. The city-state also amended its laws in 2006 to make it an offence for Singaporeans to have commercial sex with minors overseas.

The four men charged yesterday paid between S$450 and S$750 for each encounter with an underage prostitute in locations ranging from an apartment in eastern Singapore, downtown budget hotels to the more luxurious Mandarin Oriental and Shangri-La, according to the police charge sheets.

More Widespread?

“From a sociological perspective, the concern is: Is this just the tip of the iceberg,” Straughan said.

While prostitution is legal in Singapore, soliciting for customers isn’t and offenders may be fined as much as S$2,000 or jailed for as long as six months, according to the city-state’s statutes.

The scandal also comes after two of the city’s top civil servants were dismissed and arrested in January on allegations of “serious personal misconduct,” adding to public disquiet on issues ranging from quickening inflation to the worst subway disruptions during the holiday shopping season in December. The train service was disrupted again yesterday.

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