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Judge denies bail for Healing the Divide founder Iris Koh, after 'appalling belligerence' including tearing up charge sheet

SINGAPORE — Iris Koh, the founder of anti-vaccine group Healing the Divide, was again denied bail on Monday (Jan 31) after her lawyer took to the High Court in a bid for her to be released before the Chinese New Year festivities.

Judge denies bail for Healing the Divide founder Iris Koh, after 'appalling belligerence' including tearing up charge sheet
Iris Koh (pictured), founder of anti-vaccine group Healing the Divide, is accused of working with a doctor to defraud the Ministry of Health between July 2021 and January 2022.
  • Iris Koh, the founder of an anti-vaccine group, was denied bail in the State Courts last week 
  • A High Court judge noted on Jan 31 that Koh was not cooperative with the police
  • Justice Vincent Hoong said she had shown a “blatant disregard for the court and investigative processes”
  • More remand time was required for further investigations, the court found
  • Koh has been warded in hospital for hyperthyroidism, which is a pre-existing condition

SINGAPORE — Iris Koh, the founder of anti-vaccine group Healing the Divide, was again denied bail on Monday (Jan 31) after her lawyer took to the High Court in a bid for her to be released before the Chinese New Year festivities.

During a hearing on her application for bail, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Jiang Ke-Yue told the court that investigations have “disclosed more offences” and that her criminal conspiracy involved at least 20 patients.

Koh, 46, has been on remand for about a week. She filed the application after being denied bail in the State Courts last Friday, when her cheating charge was upgraded to one of being a party to a criminal conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.

She is accused of working with general practitioner Jipson Quah to defraud the Ministry of Health (MOH) between July last year and January this year, by agreeing to dishonestly make false representations to MOH that people were vaccinated with Sinopharm vaccine when they were not.

On Monday, Justice Vincent Hoong ruled that her application for bail or a temporary release from remand was “wholly devoid of merit”, adding that her efforts to “frustrate and impede investigations” have significantly contributed to the further need for remand. This included tearing up a charge sheet and police statement.

The hearing was held over video-conferencing platform Zoom. Koh appeared from Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where she has been warded.

The prosecution opposed her application, saying that she needed to be further remanded for investigations and that she has shown a “pattern of behaviour that shows her determination” not to cooperate with the police.

Koh’s co-accused, Quah and his assistant Thomas Chua Cheng Soon, were offered bail on Monday morning in the State Courts.

WHAT HAPPENED DURING REMAND PERIOD

Koh's lawyer Clarence Lun said that Koh was admitted for observation at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for suspected psychosis after she was arrested on Jan 21.

DPP Jiang said that she had claimed to be suffering from anxiety and panic attacks when she was arrested. However, she refused to be referred to IMH when the attending doctor recommended it.

The next day, she was able to give a police statement, read it over and sign it. However, the following day on Jan 23 when she was charged, she asked to be taken to IMH, where she was assessed to be mentally fit for investigations and discharged.

On the fourth day of her remand period, she asked to file a police report against an investigation officer. DPP Jiang did not reveal why but said that the authorities acceded to her request and that the reporting process took two hours “because she had a lot of things to say”.

On the fifth day, she complained of discomfort but refused to be taken to IMH again. After she was given dinner and allowed to rest, the investigation officer took another statement from her.

“This time, she refused to read the statement… and tore it up,” DPP Jiang told the court.

The next day — Jan 26 — Koh complained of discomfort and anxiety at about 5.30am. She was assessed to have a fast heartbeat and was taken to SGH in an ambulance, where she was warded for observation for hyperthyroidism, a pre-existing condition for her.

This happens when someone’s thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs, resulting in symptoms such as a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

She then refused to be discharged after claiming that her heart was still beating “very fast”. The upgraded charge was served to her in SGH with an appropriate adult present, but her “behaviour changed” and she shouted a vulgarity at the investigation officer, DPP Jiang said.

"The appropriate adult was so afraid, she did not want to sign on the charge either," the prosecutor added.

The Appropriate Adult Scheme provides assistance to persons with intellectual or mental disability who have to give a statement to the police during investigation. The appropriate adult helps with communication during the police interview so that there is no misunderstanding of the questions asked or the replies given, to ensure a reliable statement is recorded.

DPP Jiang said that on Jan 28, Koh complained of a headache but declined to take medication.

She then tore up a copy of the amended charge and “created a scene” at SGH, which meant that arrangements had to be made to restrain her and take her to a private room for her to be formally charged with the more serious offence.

During the hearing, she could follow proceedings with Mr Lun, and doctors confirmed that her pre-existing condition would not affect her. She was set to be discharged from the hospital at noon on Monday, with another biopsy required for some thyroid nodules in two to three weeks’ time.

‘APPALLING ACCOUNT OF BELLIGERENCE’

Mr Lun acknowledged that Koh’s current offence is a non-bailable one but sought her release on bail on the basis that she was medically unfit for investigations. He also questioned how likely it was for evidence to be obtained during the Chinese New Year period.

The defence counsel also argued that the prosecutors had not explained why and how Koh’s release would affect public interests.

In response, DPP Jiang said that Koh's own conduct had delayed investigations so far.

MOH had earlier said that she allegedly partnered one of Quah’s clinics to offer unsupervised “remote” pre-event testing using antigen rapid tests for members of Healing the Divide.

The police also said that Koh had allegedly referred clients, believed to be members of Healing the Divide, to Quah for fake Covid-19 vaccination records. She also purportedly suggested administering something else in lieu of the vaccine to patients.

DPP Jiang argued that there is significant public concern in determining the exact number of patients involved and that the authorities need her cooperation. He also said that Koh is medically fit for investigations.

“The evidence shows she’s not cooperating and she has some part to play in the current delay. As we speak, the other two co-accused who have been cooperating — arrangements are currently being made for their release,” DPP Jiang said, referring to Quah and Chua.

In dismissing Koh’s bail application, Justice Hoong agreed with the prosecution that the complexity and urgency of investigations meant that the district judge was right to remand Koh further.

“It was precisely due to (her) efforts to frustrate and impede investigations, which have significantly contributed to the need for this further period of remand,” the judge said, adding that an investigation officer's affidavit contained an “appalling account of belligerence, obstructive behaviour and lack of cooperation” on Koh's part.

The judge also said that her promise to cooperate “rings hollow”, given her behaviour and “blatant disregard for the investigative and court processes” by tearing up the charge sheet and police statement.

Koh and her group have been embroiled in various controversies in recent months, such as allegedly telling parents to overwhelm medical staff members at paediatric vaccination centres with questions.

She and her husband Raymond Ng, who was in court on Monday, have been probed for instigating group members to call and overwhelm public phone lines that help the public with Covid-19 matters.

Related topics

court bail Iris Koh Healing The Divide Covid-19 vaccination

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