SINGAPORE: A cleaner who chanced upon a toy grenade near the Istana placed it upright to see how the public would react to it.

For his threatening behaviour, 59-year-old Elankovan Marimuthu was fined S$4,500 on Wednesday (Jul 24).

The court heard that Elankovan’s work involved cleaning Istana Park and the surrounding areas.

He was doing so at about 7am on Nov 3, 2017, when he came across a toy grenade lying on its side near a fire hydrant along Penang Lane.

He decided to position the grenade in an upright manner, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiagesh Sukumaran, and used a pair of tongs to do so before leaving the scene.

He did this because he wanted to see how the public would react to the item once it was discovered, said the prosecutor.

At about 2.05pm that day, two motorists were at the junction of Penang Lane and Orchard Road when they noticed the toy grenade at the fire hydrant. One of them called the police.

The incident sparked a deployment of public resources. The police cordoned off the area after they arrived at the scene.

MORE THAN 40 OFFICERS DEPLOYED

A total of 39 officers were deployed from various units of the Singapore Police Force, along with eight members of the Singapore Armed Forces Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Explosive Defence Group and other police officers who swept the surrounding areas including Dhoby Ghaut MRT station.

Penang Lane was closed for half an hour and partially cordoned off to traffic for 45 minutes, while police advisories were disseminated to advise the public to stay clear of the area.

In this time, a number of phone calls were made to the police hotline complaining of traffic congestion in the area.

It was established at about 5pm that the item was a toy and Penang Lane was subsequently reopened. It is not known who placed the toy there in the first place.

Police cars at Istana Park

A suspicious item was found near Penang Road on Nov 3, 2017. (Photo: Aqil Haziq Mahmud)

Closed-circuit television footage confirmed that Elankovan had positioned the grenade in an upright manner, and he was asked to assist in investigations the next morning when he went to the Istana Park.

He admitted that he had repositioned the toy and did so because he wanted to see how the public would react to it.

Elankovan pleaded guilty to one charge under the Protection from Harassment Act of using threatening behaviour by positioning the toy grenade in an upright manner, behaviour likely to cause alarm.

The prosecution asked for a fine of S$4,500, saying it was not unreasonable to characterise Elankovan’s behaviour as “irresponsible” in today’s security climate.

The area was filled with tourists and was adjacent to the Istana, and his act wasted public resources and created inconvenience to the public.

“The public messaging today is that everything suspicious should be reported to the authorities,” said the prosecutor, adding that Elankovan had not reported it when he first saw the object.

“He turned it into his own little game,” said the prosecutor. “He wanted to see how the public would react.”

The fine would send a message that such conduct is unacceptable and that it is not a joke nor a game, but has serious consequences, he said.

Defence lawyer Rajan Supramaniam told the court that his client was not highly educated and wishes to close this “unfortunate chapter” in his life.

He has worked with Veolia ES Singapore Industrial for 17 years and was redesignated as a senior machine operator after the incident.

“Our client has truly learnt a hard and bitter lesson as a result of his foolish and wrongful actions,” said the lawyer, asking for leniency.

District Judge May Mesenas said it was fortunate that the prosecution had reduced the charge from a more serious one under the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Regulations, which carries maximum penalties of 10 years’ jail, a S$500,000 fine, or both.

“Hopefully this is a lesson learned for you, not to be taken lightly,” said the judge. “After this incident, look at what happened.”

The toy grenade was forfeited to the police for disposal.

Elankovan could have been fined a maximum of S$5,000 for his offence.