TRS trial: Founder Yang Kaiheng controlled the bulk of $550,000 earnings -- using it to pay apartment and university fees

Pearl Lee
The Straits Times 
June 25, 2016

Singaporean Yang Kaiheng was a key person behind The Real Singapore, and controlled the bulk of about A$550,000 in advertising revenue the sociopolitical website made from December 2012 to April last year, the State Court heard yesterday.

He also had a hand in almost every aspect of the website's operations, from spearheading the development of mobile applications to deciding on which advertising platforms to work with.

The prosecution detailed his extensive involvement in the website yesterday when Yang pleaded guilty to six charges of sedition.

Two more charges - one of sedition and the other of failing to produce financial statements on the site's advertising earnings to the police - will be taken into consideration in sentencing, which has been set for next Tuesday.

Yang, 27, was charged with deliberately sowing discord between Singaporeans and foreigners through a series of articles on TRS, which he co-founded with his wife Ai Takagi and a friend.

Takagi, 23, had pleaded guilty at the start of the hearing and was sentenced to 10 months in jail. She started serving her sentence in April.

Yang, however, had claimed trial, saying he was barely involved in the website.

But in an about-turn three days ago, he told the court he would plead guilty.

Facts of the case presented by the prosecution show he was not only instrumental in setting up TRS, but had masterminded ways for it to generate more revenue.

The bulk of the money went towards paying for an apartment he bought jointly with Takagi, as well as his tuition fees at the University of Queensland in Australia.

Deputy Public Prosecutor G. Kannan said between December 2012 and 2013, A$91,819.34 of the website's A$100,847.66 in advertising earnings had gone to Yang.

The money was credited to Takagi's bank account every month. But she would transfer all of it to Yang's account on the day the money came in or a few days later.

After they jointly set up a company to run TRS, the advertising revenue was paid to the company.

He also set up accounts on two websites, which let him source for freelancers providing IT services and track TRS' online traffic.

These helped him enhance TRS.

Yang, being TRS' proprietor, allowed Takagi to publish content on TRS and did not control or limit her, said DPP Kannan.

He also, among other things, had access to the site's management tool and could add, remove and edit its content, as well as its structure and layout.

But he did not edit or remove content from TRS even when told that some of the articles had flouted Singapore laws, said DPP Kannan.

One of them had defamed a Singapore minister, and TRS was told to remove it and issue an apology. It did not comply.

When the minister tried to take legal action, TRS published a statement saying: "Sorry, your request does not comply with our privacy policy and is therefore rejected."

The DPP said Yang "only elected to plead guilty after seven days of trial, after having been cross-examined for two days, and before the conclusion of cross-examination".

He had also lied in court and hid his involvement in TRS during investigations, Mr Kannan added.


The Straits Times

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