Singapore rejects appeal by Swiss graffiti vandal, extends jail term by 2 months

SINGAPORE (AP) — A Swiss man asked a Singapore judge Wednesday to reduce his five-month jail term for graffiti, but instead got two months added to his sentence, showing the lengths the city-state will go to maintain its reputation as a safe and clean place.

Oliver Fricker argued in his appeal that he should serve a three-month sentence for vandalism concurrently with a two-month trespassing penalty, rather than consecutively. Judge V.K. Rajah rejected Fricker's argument that the jail term was "crushing and disproportionate," ruling that the two-month trespassing sentence was insufficient and doubled it.

Fricker, 32, must now serve seven months in total and also faces three strokes of a cane for breaking into a train depot with an accomplice and painting graffiti on two subway carriages on May 16. Authorities had postponed the caning until the appeal was decided, and declined to say Wednesday when the caning would be carried out.

Fricker's lawyer, Derek Kang, said his client was disappointed with the verdict.

"He's paying a very heavy price for a single foolish act," Kang said.

The Southeast Asian city state boasts one of the lowest violent crime rates and highest standards of living in the world, but human rights groups often criticize the government for heavy punishments, such as a mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers. Singapore also reiterated a ban on the sale of chewing gum and announced a crackdown on littering this year.

Singapore caned American teenager Michael Fay for vandalism in 1994 — ignoring pleas for leniency by then-President Bill Clinton — in a case that drew international attention to the country's tough legal system. Authorities have caned at least a dozen foreigners for vandalism in the last decade.

Fay, who was 18 at the time, was sentenced to six cane strokes and four months in jail.

"The laws of Singapore proscribing vandalism are indeed severe," Rajah said. "However, needless to say, these are the very laws that are largely responsible for a clean and graffiti-free environment."

Singapore regularly ranks near the top in expatriate quality of life surveys, and the government expects the economy to grow as much as 15 percent this year as trade, finance and tourism boom after the global downturn. Foreigners from developed countries are drawn to jobs in finance, shipping and at corporate regional headquarters.

Far from scaring them off, Singapore's tough law-and-order policies tend to attract many expatriate families and other visitors.

"It certainly hasn't been debilitating in their ability to attract business and expats," said David Cohen, an economist with Action Economics who has lived in Singapore since 1997. "They clearly wanted to put the message that graffiti is not tolerated here, by foreigners or locals."

Fricker, an information technology consultant who has worked in Singapore since 2008, pleaded guilty to committing the crimes with Lloyd Dane Alexander, a British citizen based in Hong Kong. Police have issued an arrest warrant for Alexander, 29, and prosecutors said he has fled to Hong Kong.

Fricker and Alexander cut through a security fence and caused about 11,000 Singapore dollars ($8,000) of damage by painting on a train car, "McKoy Banos," a slogan that has appeared in graffiti throughout the world.

"Their conduct was nothing short of audacious and intemperate," Rajah said. "This was a stunt that was plainly designed to attract international notoriety to a pair of irresponsible, attention-seeking individuals."

During the appeal trial, prosecutors said Fricker had been convicted of property damage in Switzerland in 2001, evidence that Rajah ruled was relevant and material. Kang said during the initial trial that Fricker was a first-time offender.

Rajah said that if prosecutors had asked him to review the three-month sentence for vandalism, he probably would have increased it as well.

"The accused should count himself fortunate that he has not received his just desserts in full," the judge said.