Thief caught on S'pore-bound Scoot flight calls 8-month jail sentence 'a bit harsh'

A passenger noticed the thief removing something from a grey bag and placing it in his jacket.

Amber Tay | January 12, 2024, 04:21 PM



Zhang Xiuqiang, a 52-year-old Chinese national, was sentenced to eight months in jail on Jan. 12, 2024, for stealing from three passengers on a Scoot flight from Vietnam to Singapore.

He was charged with three counts of theft on Dec. 18, 2023.

He pleaded guilty to one count of theft, with another two charges taken into consideration on Jan. 12, 2024.

Zhang had exclaimed in Mandarin, "It's a bit harsh, isn't it?" upon hearing his sentence, as reported by CNA.

What happened

The incident took place on a Scoot flight TR305 from Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore on Dec. 16, 2023.

The crew was preparing to disembark passengers upon landing in Singapore when a few passengers said they lost money from their carry-on bags.

A South-African woman named Graham Valmai Hope, 62, noticed Zhang walking down the aisle and taking a grey bag from the overhead compartment above seat 7E during the flight.

He brought the bag back to his seat. There, he removed something and placed it in his jacket. He then returned the bag to its original spot.

Hope had sat next to Zhang on the flight. They sat in seats 11B and 11C respectively.

Hope subsequently noticed a Korean man, 29, retrieving the same grey bag after the plane landed. She told him to check the contents of the bag.

The Korean man realised he lost an envelope of cash that held US$1,000 (around S$1,331) and S$930. Hope informed him that Zhang had taken it.

At this time, Zhang was already standing on the aisle, waiting to disembark.

Richard Khoo Hye Koon, a 60-year-old Singaporean man, stopped Zhang from leaving after he overheard the conversation between Hope and the Korean man.

Khoo also noticed that Zhang threw an envelope onto seat 7D.

The Korean man picked up the envelope and confirmed that the cash inside matched the money he had lost.

Two other passengers realised that they too had lost money after checking their bags.

One victim lost S$50 and 5.16 million Vietnamese dong (around S$280), while the other was missing S$600 and 3 million Vietnamese dong (around S$163) in cash.

Another passenger said Zhang threw more money on the floor of the plane.

The court heard that Zhang did this to get rid of evidence.

He was arrested soon after by the police, and all cash belonging to the passengers were recovered.

Zhang denied the offence at first, despite numerous eyewitnesses.

"A bit harsh", exclaimed Zhang

The prosecutor sought a jail sentence of six to nine months, explaining that passengers on a plane cannot monitor their belongings at all times, and it "cannot be incumbent on them to be watching their own baggage all the time to ensure nobody else takes them".

He added that the sentence imposed must sent "an unstinting message to both the accused and other foreigners that Singapore will not tolerate foreigners boarding Singapore-bound flights to commit crimes".

Zhang pleaded for leniency in his sentencing via a Mandarin interpreter.

He said he was remorseful and had returned all the money to the victims.

The judge said that the only reason why Zhang was not successful in stealing the money was due to the vigilance of other passengers on board and his failure in completing the theft could not be credited to him.

The judge also added such offences are easy to commit but difficult to detect.

When Zhang exclaimed the sentence to be "a bit harsh", the judge said that it was her decision and he could choose what he wished to do next, referring to an appeal.

Those convicted of theft can be jailed up to three years, fined, or both.

Top image via Scoot website