Man who wakeboarded at and damaged Civilian War Memorial fined $4,000

Stephan Kovalkov wakeboarded across the water feature and performed a "wall slide" - jumping into the air with his board and scraping it against the wall of the monument.
Screengrab/Facebook/Malvin Fang

SINGAPORE - Stephan Kovalkov, a 25-year-old Singaporean who wakeboarded at the Civilian War Memorial and damaged it in the process, was fined $4,000 in court on Friday (Nov 12).

Kovalkov and four others were in search of unique spots in Singapore to wakeboard. They set up a motorised pulley system at the water feature in front of the monument that Kovalkov used while skiing.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam said in sentencing: "Deterrence is the key factor to deter others from doing the same and (for us) to cherish our national monuments."

On the evening of July 17, Kovalkov suggested to his four friends to gather at the Civilian War Memorial that is located within the War Memorial Park at Beach Road in their search for a wakeboarding spot in the city area.

The group, which travelled in two cars, parked at a nearby shopping centre and headed over.

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Kovalkov set up a self-modified winch - which is used to generate the force required to drag a person from one end of the water feature to the other - at one end of the water feature of the memorial.

He then put on his helmet and strapped himself to the wakeboard, Deputy Public Prosecutor Koh Mun Keong said, while referring to a 31-second video of the incident played in court.

In the video, which captured one of the instances Kovalkov wakeboarded across the water feature, he can be seen performing a "wall slide" - jumping into the air with his board and scraping it against the wall of the monument.

The clip was shared widely on social media and received widespread criticism from netizens who called the act disrespectful.

Kovalkov also recorded his attempts at wakeboarding with a GoPro camera, but the videos were deleted by him voluntarily, DPP Koh said.

He asked one of his friends, Ekaterina Utkina, 24, to operate the system while he skied across the shallow water feature a total of five times.

Utkina is from Russia and is a permanent resident here.

According to court documents, none of Kovalkov's accomplices engaged in wakeboarding at the memorial.

His four friends have not been dealt with in court and Kovalkov's items - a wakeboard, helmet and self-modified winch - have been handed over to the police for disposal.

The memorial was unveiled on Feb 15, 1967 – the 25th anniversary of Singapore's fall to Japanese forces in 1942, DPP Koh told the court.

It is built over a burial chamber that contains exhumed remains from the mass graves of civilian war victims in Singapore, and memorial services are held on Feb 15 each year in their memory.

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"Any form of disrespect, such as damaging or interfering, must be deterred," said DPP Koh, seeking a fine of $3,000 to $5,000.

Defence lawyer Noor Mohamed Marican plead for leniency in his mitigation plea and added that Kovalkov was deeply sorry for his behaviour.

"His idea was to take a video of his wakeboarding at unique areas to generate positive interest about Singapore for the wakeboarding community."

"He realises it is not an adventure playground and any form of disrespect is not tolerated," said Mr Marican, who plead with the judge for a fine of $3,000.

Kovalkov could have received a maximum punishment of $30,000 in fines and six months in jail.

In a joint news release on Sept 13, the Singapore Police Force and National Heritage Board said: "National monuments are important markers of our identity and highlight key milestones in Singapore's history."

"Due respect must be accorded to our national monuments, in particular war memorials, and all acts of disrespect are unacceptable."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.