Banker among dozens in Singapore underage sex case

SINGAPORE, April 18 Wed Apr 18, 2012 1:50pm BST

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SINGAPORE, April 18 (Reuters) - A former UBS banker and the son of a prominent family are among dozens of men who have appeared in court in Singapore on charges of paying an underage girl for sex in an online prostitution scandal enveloping high-profile executives and civil servants.

Singapore, a financial hub that rivals Hong Kong, has sought to soften its squeaky-clean image in recent years and recast itself as a vibrant, global centre with casinos, high-end shops and cultural events to cater to wealthy foreigners and locals.

Prostitution is not against the law in the city-state, which has an active and barely concealed sex industry, but having paid sex with someone under the age 18 is a crime.

Juerg Buergin, until recently the Singapore country head of operations at UBS's investment banking unit, faces two charges of paying for sex with the underage girl.

She has not been publicly identified and is now over 18 but was younger than that at the time of the alleged offences.

UBS declined to comment but a source at the bank told Reuters that Buergin resigned earlier this year.

In handcuffs during a court appearance on Wednesday, Buergin was being held pending bail of S$15,000 ($12,000) and intends to plead not guilty at a later hearing, his lawyer Selva Naidu said. If convicted, he faces up to 7 years in prison on each charge.

Howard Shaw, a former executive director of the non-profit Singapore Environment Council and British-educated scion of the famous Shaw cinema family, also appeared in court to be charged but left without talking to reporters.

Others charged include a former school principal, a former head of strategic planning at the Police Training Command, a former senior lawyer for Singapore's environmental agency and a naval officer.

On Monday, 44 of the men appeared in court. As many as 80 people have been questioned by police, according to local media.

The underage sex case comes less than three months after Singapore removed its chief of civil defence and replaced the head of its police anti-drug unit in an investigation by the anti-corruption watchdog of "serious personal misconduct".

The man accused of running the online prostitution ring was charged in November. He recruited the escorts through a Facebook page and kept records of all of their transactions, the Straits Times newspaper reported.

Court documents say the offences allegedly took place between September 2010 and February 2011 in various cheap and expensive hotels across Singapore - including Marina Bay Sands, a casino resort run by Las Vegas Sands, and M Hotel, owned by CDL Hospitality Trusts. ($1 = 1.2486 Singapore dollars) (Additional reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Sanjeev Miglani)