SINGAPORE — Two eateries claiming to have been the target of a campaign of negative reviews allegedly from a competitor have sent the suspected perpetrator letters of demand to seek compensation for defamation.
Mentai-ya Japanese Cuisine, and The Social Outcast, a restaurant located at Turf Club, are each seeking $70,000 and $50,000 respectively in damages from Ishiro, a Japanese eatery.
Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore on Friday (17 September), the owners of Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast confirmed that they sent such letters to Ishiro on 15 September and 16 September. They are asking for compensation for what they describe as “significant damage” to their business reputation and for “emotional and mental distress”.
The letters of demand were sent by a team of lawyers – led by lawyer Clarence Lun – from Fervent Law Chambers which was engaged by the two eateries last week. Both letters, seen by Yahoo News Singapore, state that Ishiro had caused and/or allowed employees, including a Wen Bin and/or Deon Goh, to publish false and defamatory comments and reviews against the eateries through multiple accounts on Facebook and Google, which allegedly were set up using pseudonyms.
According to Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority records, Goh is the director of OSEAS, the company that operates Ishiro.
Accounts from Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast
Mentai-ya’s owner, 34-year-old Khoo Keat Hwee said in a phone interview that its three outlets began getting one-star reviews on Google from May this year. While the eatery ignored the reviews at first, they soon accumulated, said Khoo. The poor reviews prompted him to apologise in a video uploaded on Mentai-ya’s Facebook at the end of June.
But the bad ratings kept coming. “Every few days… every morning I wake up, oh another one-star review," Khoo said. Eventually he realised that the reviews came from a group of eight to nine users – the same users who gave five-star reviews to Ichiro. This made Khoo suspicious.
The reviews, along with other incidents, said Khoo, prompted him to investigate. He claimed to have found evidence that implicated Ishiro. Khoo has made two police reports related to the matter.
Another eatery discovered link through Mentai-ya
He added that he discovered that other eateries, including The Social Outcast, which formerly had a hawker stall in Bedok Marketplace beside an Ishiro outlet, were also targets.
The Social Outcast’s owner, 41-year-old Aminurrashid Hasnordin, told Yahoo News Singapore in a phone interview that he had learned of Ishiro’s alleged involvement through Mentai-ya only recently.
For him, it started as a racial slur in the comments of a video featuring The Social Outcast on Facebook, posted in December last year, before the same person began to post bad reviews on The Social Outcast’s website and Facebook page.
Due to business reasons unrelated to the alleged defamation, Aminurrashid decided to close the stall at Bedok Marketplace in May this year. He reopened The Social Outcast as a restaurant at Turf Club on 14 September. He learned about Ishiro's alleged involvement at about the same time.
After Khoo published his investigation findings in a video on his Facebook page, Ishiro responded in a post on its Instagram account on 8 September, attributing the reviews to one of its employees who had dined at Mentai-ya. The post has since been removed.
On 9 September, Ishiro posted an apology to “Mentai-ya and all businesses” on its Facebook page for the “harm these unfortunate events have caused”. It also apologised for its initial statement and added that it had no intention to defame competitors, doubling down on its claim that the employee had acted of his or her own accord.
“Ishiro assumes full responsibility for our actions and we apologise for the unfortunate sequence of events that have affected our fellow counterparts in the community,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, the bad reviews continued.
Motivations behind sending letters of demand
In addition to the sums demanded, both Mentai-ya and The Social Outcast asked for all the negative reviews to be removed and a public apology to be posted on Ishiro's Facebook page for four weeks and an undertaking from Ishiro not to publish further such statements.
Asked why he decided on such a formal move, Khoo said the eatery’s sales had dropped by as much as 15 to 20 per cent from June to August.
As for Aminurrashid, he wants to put a stop to the alleged harassment and send a message that harassers will not be able to hide behind their keyboards.
Ishiro has also engaged legal representation
In response to queries by Yahoo News Singapore, Ishiro confirmed that it had received the letters.
Yahoo News Singapore contacted a person who identified himself as Ishiro’s listed owner, Deon Goh. Goh said that he has engaged a lawyer and “would be responding to the letter”.
Asked what Ishiro meant by “taking full responsibility for its actions” on its Facebook post, Goh did not reply.
Should Ishiro not comply with the demands within seven days, the two eateries say they intend to initiate court proceedings.
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