Pimp jailed 2 years, fined S$83,000 for running virtual Brothel

A 32-year-old man sentenced to two years’ jail and fined S$83,000 on Friday (May 26) is believed to be the first person prosecuted for operating a “virtual brothel”.

Roderic Chen Hao Ren pleaded guilty to nine charges, including five for living off the earnings of prostitutes, three for procuring women for prostitution and one for operating a hotline – a Singapore-registered mobile number – which he used to communicate with prostitutes and clients.

A new law prohibiting the operation of a “remote communication service”, like a mobile phone, that “offers … a woman or girl to another person (for) sexual services in return for payment” came into force on Jul 1 last year. 

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gail Wong said the new law targets pimps who operate online, “in the virtual space … instead of traditional brothels”. She said the “evolving manner” in which pimps operate – using technology and “an online business model” – had to be tackled.

The use of technology “increases the difficulty of detection … due to the anonymity of the Internet … which facilitates criminal activity and where servers can be hosted overseas, making it more difficult for (the police) to trace offenders”, DPP Wong said.

Chen’s website was hosted overseas. He was arrested in Singapore in last July when the police raided his flat following a tip-off.

Chen said that he learned how to operate a social escort company from a fellow convict while in prison. He set up a company upon his release, and advertised waitressing and modelling jobs for some time before turning to prostitution.

He set up a website and ‘hotline’ advertising “high-income jobs”. At least seven Singaporean women aged 21 to 39 came across the advertisements online and responded.

Chen, who never told the women his real name, would meet up with each woman in a public place, and they agreed to allow Chen to advertise their sexual services at rates ranging from S$450 to S$600 an hour. They also agreed to give Chen 40 per cent of their earnings for each client.

The pimp earned between S$2,000 and S$10,800 from each woman, who served between nine and 72 clients over several months. Chen operated the “virtual brothel” for over two and a half years before he was caught, during which he earned about S$150,000.  

DPP Wong sought a jail term of two years and one month and a fine of S$83,000, calling Chen the “main operator and mastermind” of the operation. Chen operated with his co-accused Lee Soon Ann, who will be dealt with separately.

It was Chen who “learned the skills of the trade” in prison and set up the website himself, DPP Wong said, and was involved in everything from photographing the women for online advertisements to arranging clients for them.

DPP Wong added it is clear that Chen has “failed to be rehabilitated for his past offences” – he has spent time in prison for assault, harassment and for running an unlicensed moneylending business – and “even learned (how to be a pimp) in prison”.

Defence lawyer Choo Si Sen said Chen had turned to living off prostitutes because he was in financial difficulty after his employment agency business failed. Calling for an eight-month jail term, Mr Choo pointed out Chen never coerced or threatened the women into becoming prostitutes. They were also not underage, Mr Choo said.

For living off the earnings of a prostitute, Chen could have been jailed up to five years and fined up to S$10,000.

For operating the hotline he used for illegal activities, he could have been jailed up to three years and/or fined up to S$3,000. 





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