7 stories that changed Singapore in 2010

7 stories that changed Singapore in 2010

The MM gets WikiLeaked, the casinos open in grand style and Singapore sports gets some global PR. Just some of the stories that hogged the headlines in Singapore in 2010

Lee Kuan Yew embarrassed by WikiLeaks

Lee Kuan Yew

In November, Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew was added to the list of diplomatic embarrassments released by the global whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks.

In a 2009 conversation with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the 87-year-old flatly referred to North Koreans as “psychopathic types, with a ‘flabby old chap’ for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation.”

The shocking remarks made headlines around the world. Lee also felt sympathy for North Koreans, adding that “he had learned from living through three and a half years of Japanese occupation in Singapore that people will obey authorities who can deny them food, clothing and medicine."

Lee was recently re-elected to the government cabinet post of “Minister Mentor,” a position he's held since 2004.

Jack Neo’s career up for grabs

Jack Neo

Singapore’s most successful filmmaker/comedian Jack Neo watched his career come unglued in March, after news surfaced of an extramarital affair with a 22-year-old actress (he is 50).

Neo and his wife held a highly dramatic press conference where he admitted the rumors were true, and began crying, after which she fainted to the floor.

Rumors quickly surfaced of liaisons with 10 other women, including an alleged sex tape which was later deemed a hoax. Neo rose to fame playing cross-dressing characters in comedies.

His escapades have certainly contributed to him topping Singapore's Fastest Rising People on Google Zeitgeist 2010 SEA List, ahead of Justin Bieber.

Romanian diplomat denies hit and run

Silviu Ionescu

In February Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu was implicated in a hit-and-run death in Bukit Panjang. A coroner’s inquiry found that the diplomat had been drinking, and drove his car into three people on the same night.

But three days after the December accident, Ionescu had mysteriously flown home to Romania, claiming health problems.

Singapore’s government angrily issued a warrant for his arrest, but with no extradition treaty between the two countries, he refused to return, and told a reporter, “Honestly, I don’t believe in the court of Singapore.”

Romania imprisoned him for seven months on manslaughter and other charges, and then suddenly released him. He will face trial in early 2011, and still claims innocence.

The Philips Bear: An advertising campaign gone awry

Philips Bear

A guerrilla advertising campaign for a men’s electric shaver backfired badly in October, ending with government officials carrying a tranquilizer gun, chasing after an actor in a bear costume.

When Philips Electronics wanted to launch its SensoTouch 3D razor, its agency devised a video campaign depicting a bear in various locations.

But the first clip, footage of a bear-like creature rummaging in trash bins along Ulu Pandan Road, immediately went viral online and sent the public into a panic.

Twelve employees of the Singapore Zoo, four police officers and three members of a nature group spent hours searching the neighborhood and surrounding forest.

Philips quickly apologized and scrapped the campaign, saying “We had anticipated the attention that the bear will draw but did not anticipate that it would cause any alarm.” Police threatened to levy a public nuisance fine of S$1,000.

Casinos open in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands

In a multi-billion dollar bid to welcome tourism, Singapore opened the first of two casino resorts this past January.

Resorts World Sentosa casino opened at 12:18 p.m. on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, and within hours, hundreds of itchy gamblers had lined up at the doors.

The Marina Bay Sands casino resort followed in April, boasting a luxurious artwork-lined lobby, and plans for a unique lotus-shaped art and science museum to feature permanent and touring exhibitions.

To discourage money-laundering and other criminal elements, the government has imposed a S$100 Singapore dollar (USD$75.64) casino entrance fee for locals and permanent residents. Anyone declared bankrupt is banned from the casino.

Water polo swim trunks not for everyone

Singapore Water Polo Team

Singapore’s water polo team finished the 2010 Asian Games tournament in sixth place, but not without controversy.

Their new tight-fitting swim trunks featured the official flag’s crescent moon and stars emblazoned across the genitals in what one government official called an “obscene” design.

Public opinion ranged from “patriotic” to “nauseating” and “disgraceful.” Unfortunately, according to Asian Games rules, the team could not change its uniform in the middle of the tournament.

Thus, all 45 participating nations were able to witness the crotch-flag design. Team manager Samuel Wong was obligated to apologize, and the trunks will be redesigned. The sport of water polo is expected to make a complete recovery.

British writer jailed for contempt

Alan Shandrake

In November a Singapore court sentenced British author Alan Shadrake to six weeks in jail and a S$20,000 (USD$15,120) fine, for his recent book criticizing the city-state’s execution rate, among the highest in the world.

Shadrake’s "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock" features an interview with former longtime executioner Darshan Singh, who achieved notoriety for hanging 18 men in one day.

High Court Judge Quentin Loh said the 76-year-old writer showed “a reckless disregard for the truth” and “a complete lack of remorse.”

Shadrake insisted his book was “devastatingly accurate” and offered to apologize for offending the judiciary, but added he would never apologize for his book.

The case attracted worldwide attention to Singapore’s harsh legal system, and how the government uses defamation laws to silence critics. Despite the media coverage, Singapore has not banned the sale of the book.


Jack Boulware is a journalist and author of three books, and has traveled widely on assignment for many publications.
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