SINGAPORE — A 72-year-old man who stabbed and killed his son-in-law was sentenced to eight-and-a-half years’ jail on Monday (21 September) by the High Court.
Tan Nam Seng pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide after he stabbed Spencer Tuppani, 38, with a knife thrice in broad daylight during lunch hour along Telok Ayer Street on 10 July 2017 with the intention of killing him.
Tuppani had taken over the family business and fathered two children with a mistress
Passing the sentence, Justice Dedar Singh Gill said that to a “right-minded person this was a vicious and brazen killing during broad daylight on an unsuspecting victim”.
Justice Gill noted that psychiatric reports showed Tan was suffering from clinical depression and experiencing a major depressive episode which significantly impaired his mental responsibility over the act.
While Tan’s health weighed heavily on his mind, he considered that Tan’s risk of reoffending was likely to be low if his psychiatric condition was treated and was in remission.
However, there was also clear psychiatric evidence that Tan had an unimpaired understanding of the nature and consequences of his action. The fact that the killing took place in full public view was also an aggravating factor.
The prosecution had sought a jail term of 12 years while Tan’s lawyers sought a sentence of seven-and-a-half years.
Facts of the case
One of Tan’s lawyers, Wee Pan Lee, set out the offences that led his client into believing that Tuppani had betrayed his trust in a bid to take over the family business and gain custody of his three children with Tuppani’s first daughter.
Apart from having three daughters with his first wife, Tan has a second family with a son and daughter.
With only a primary school education, Tan founded TNS Shipping in 1974. At its peak, the company employed over 1,000 staff. He later employed his daughters too.
In 2005, Tuppani married Tan’s eldest daughter Shyller and began working for TNS Logistics.
Around 2008 or 2009, the TNS group of companies were consolidated into TNS Ocean Lines, of which Tan was chairman. Shyller was the firm’s commercial head, while Tuppani was a director who oversaw business expansion as well as sales and marketing.
However the marriage began fraying in 2013 when Shyller discovered that her husband was involved in a “string of extramarital affairs”, said Wee. Tuppani had used money from the company to fund his lavish lifestyle of cars and luxury watches and to support his mistresses.
Shyller and Tuppani mended their relationship. However, when Shyller conceived a fourth child in 2015, she was forced to abort it by Tuppani.
The next year, Shyller found that Tuppani had bought property without her knowledge and was maintaining another woman with whom he had two children by in-vitro fertilisation. The next year, Tuppani moved out of the home he shared with Tan and Shyller.
A feeling of betrayal
In 2016, Tuppani suggested to shareholders that the company be sold to a bigger firm, GKE Corporation. Tan was contemplating retirement, and left the sale to Tuppani.
In November 2016, leading up to the sale, Tuppani persuaded Tan and Shyller to transfer him their shares to boost his stake in TNS Ocean Lines, so that GKE Corporation would not have control of it.
The sale went through the next month and Tuppani became the chief executive of the new company. Even though he expected $1 million, Tan only received $450,000 from the sale of his shares. He did not confront his son-in-law as he wanted to keep the peace.
Meanwhile, his other daughter Sherry was suspended from her role as a human resource manager at the company on 4 July 2017 after arguing with Tuppani’s personal assistant.
Tan worried that Tuppani would remove Shyller from the company as part of a plan to cheat him of his business.
The events led to Tan “feeling lousy and miserable” and he “ruminated excessively” about Tuppani’s actions and was unable to sleep at night, according to Wee.
Wee said, “Tan and (Tuppani) had a good relationship. Tan was not just his father-in-law but his mentor and guided him and elevated him, treated him almost as if he were his own son, giving shelter to (Tuppani’s) mother in his own home.”
“Given the trust and faith reposed in (Tuppani), it was all the more devastating that it was all a charade and he was about to be betrayed,” he added.
Tan had accepted grudgingly that Shyller and (Tuppani) were to be divorced. Having been through a divorce himself, Tan could empathise, said Wee, but Tan did not expect to be betrayed over the divorce proceedings and his own shares in the company.
The day of the killing
Tan had arranged to meet Tuppani to discuss Sherry’s suspension. Tuppani agreed but later cancelled the meeting due to other business matters. As Tuppani failed to arrange for another meeting, Tan felt that his son-in-law was avoiding and disrespecting him.
On 10 July 2017, Tan was driving to the company’s Cecil Court office at around lunchtime when he saw Tuppani having a meal with three friends at a coffee shop at 121 Telok Ayer Street. Tan decided to confront him.
He hid a knife from his office pantry in his bag and approached Tuppani. The two had a brief conversation before Tan stabbed the latter in his chest thrice. Tuppani ran towards Boon Tat Street, where he collapsed outside a restaurant, A Poke Theory, while two of his friends called the police.
Tan followed him and prevented anyone from helping him. He kicked Tuppani’s face twice before sitting down in a nearby chair to wait for the police. He then called Shyller to tell her about the incident.
Paramedics found Tuppani lying unresponsive in a pool of blood. He was sent to the hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 2.15pm.
Wee told the court that his client had experienced a string of serious health issues since being incarcerated in July 2017.
He contracted tuberculosis, suffered from two heart attacks, and had coronary bypass surgery in addition to other issues. These should be considered when calibrating the right sentence, Wee pointed out.
The punishment for culpable homicide is life imprisonment, or a jail term of up to 20 years along with a fine and caning. As Tan is above 50, he cannot be caned.
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