Singapore Keeps U.S. Executive From Leaving : Asia: Businessman charged with offenses dating to 1992. The government steps up anti-American rhetoric.


Just as the furor over the flogging of American teen-ager Michael Fay had begun to fade, the government here has confronted the Clinton Administration with a new controversy: A 51-year-old American businessman has been prevented from leaving this country after being charged with various offenses, from using abusive language to assault.

The businessman, Robert Freehill, an executive with the American aerospace company Walter Kidd, is the father of one of the teen-agers charged along with Fay last year in the spray-painting of cars.

While Fay pleaded guilty and was flogged four times with a rattan cane in a case that garnered worldwide attention, Stephen Freehill, 17, was freed after paying a fine when the government dropped the more serious vandalism charges against him.

But his father was brought to night court and charged with five offenses, some of which dated to 1992, it was announced over the weekend. He was freed on bail and his passport was impounded.


He was alleged to have harmed a motorist by kicking a car door and causing another to suffer a sprained neck in a heated argument. Three of the allegations are related to using “abusive language.” According to the government-controlled Straits Times newspaper, Freehill faces a maximum of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

“The charges have totally been fabricated,” Freehill’s wife, Grace, told the Associated Press in Mandeville, La. “Not once did we lay a finger on anybody, not once did we turn around and start any kind of incident.”

Western diplomats said they were puzzled by the government’s decision to revive 2-year-old allegations against Robert Freehill, since the regime had expressed a desire to end the war of words with the United States over the Fay case. One explanation was that the police moved to head off Freehill leaving Singapore for good, as his son has done.

The charges were especially “confounding,” said one Western diplomat, because Timothy A. Chorba, the new U.S. ambassador, arrived here only 10 days earlier. Chorba is a political appointee known to have a close personal friendship with Clinton.


But the Singaporeans have recently launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign attacking the United States and American values. It has left many American business people here increasingly uneasy.

Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, for example, devoted the better part of a National Day Rally speech Aug. 21 to preserving family values. But, as one diplomat noted, the speech “declared open season on Americans.”

“Many American children call their fathers by their first names, and treat them with casual familiarity,” Goh said. “We must not unthinkingly drift into attitudes and manners which undermine the traditional politeness and deference Asian children have for their parents and elders.”

Goh denounced a recent advertisement showing a toddler raising his fist while demanding a milk drink from his father. While the ad was Singaporean and did not mention the United States, Goh asked: “Why put an American boy’s way of speaking to a father into a Singaporean boy’s mouth?” The ad was ordered removed by the government, which censors the press in Singapore.


In an echo of former U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle’s controversial remarks about unwed mothers, Goh touched off a domestic furor by announcing that the government would no longer allow unwed mothers to apply for government-subsidized apartments. He said families of female civil servants will continue to be denied medical benefits given male employees so that Singaporean men will not become a “nonessential extra.”

The government has taken such other steps as canceling the television series “Melrose Place” on the state-controlled television station because of what it considers the show’s displays of poor examples of behavior. It announced recently that it plans to start a new channel devoted to nature programs.

Virtually every day, the government-controlled media print an attack on U.S. democracy, American family values or give sensational coverage of gruesome crimes in the United States. Yet, the United States is both the largest investor in Singapore and the country’s largest export market, taking 20% of its products.