Police arrest founder of online dating app Sugarbook

The founder of controversial online dating platform Sugarbook was arrested by the police yesterday.

In a statement, Selangor Crime Investigation Department chief Fadzil Ahmat said the 34-year-old man was arrested in Mont Kiara, Kuala Lumpur, about 4.30pm.

“The suspect admitted he was the founder of the Sugarbook app during preliminary investigations,” Fadzil said.

The police applied to the Shah Alam Magistrates Court this morning for the man to be remanded.

Some 74 police reports have been made against Sugarbook.

The police are investigating Sugarbook under four different laws – Section 505 of the Penal Code (Statements conducing to public mischief), Section 372(1)(d) of the Penal Code (Exploiting any person for purposes of prostitution), Section 372B of the Penal Code (Soliciting for purposes of prostitution) and Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Improper use of network facilities or network service, etc).

Sugarbook is a phone application that offers dating services between younger women and older men, but there has been concern over the transactional deals.

Hong Kong-based media South China Morning Post previously reported that sex solicitation was rife on the application, but Sugarbook claims it actively combats vice and exploitation.

The application came into the spotlight recently after it released a survey showing which local public and private higher learning institutions had the most students as “sugar babies” on the platform.

The public relations stunt led to censure, and the Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) has since banned Sugarbook’s website.

Sugarbook last landed in a controversy in 2019 over a billboard advertisement.

This had prompted the removal of the advertisement and calls for the service to be shut down, but the public outcry soon died out and the service continued to be readily accessible.

Our sugar babies and sugar politicians

So, our moral male leaders have decided that it’s “immoral” for sugar babies to offer sweet “companionship” to sugar daddies in exchange for gifts, such as fancy handbags, clothes, dinners and yes, money.

But perhaps these young ladies were merely following the “glorious” example set by our politicians who lubricated the back door to enjoy the ecstasy of power? Why blame the young, when the elders have been guilty of worse sins – betraying the trust of thousands of voters in exchange for gifts far more lucrative than clothes and handbags?

The objection to sugar babies seems to be that selling romance, short-term flings or one-night stands (call it what you want) is “wrong” because it’s not for “true love”. Rather, Sugarbook, the platform offering this service claimed there was a surge of female students signing up in these challenging Covid times to help pay for their college tuition fees and living expenses.

Or OK, maybe the ladies want to finance a lavish lifestyle and can survive only on designer cappuccinos and bubble milk teas. Even then, so what? What moral principle are these sugar babies actually breaking? That women must remain virgins until they get married? Er, which century are our moral guardians living in?

The last I checked, Malaysia is not (yet) an Islamic state and non-Muslim women can darn well choose who they want to sleep with, even if it’s just for short-term fun or posh gifts. So if the government wants to ban Sugarbook, it should only be for Muslims (for violating syariah law). Please don’t dictate one religion over the lifestyle of others.

If these sugary couples have broken any moral laws, it’s a personal matter between two people (unless there are, gasp, sweet threesomes?) and the god/s they may or may not believe in. Compare that to politicians, who piously declare that they are “defending” a certain religion yet have no remorse over betraying the public trust of thousands.

As expected, it was a deputy minister from the most “holy” political party, PAS, who called on the government to ban the Sugarbook app “to prevent youth from getting involved in immoral activities”.

But perhaps, he should first look at how his own party repeatedly lied about receiving money from Umno before finally confessing to it? And what about the allegation that even more Umno money was used to buy luxury cars (a BMW, Mini Cooper, Toyota Vellfire, Range Rover, Porsche Cayman, Audi Q7) for certain PAS leaders?

As usual, the men in power are quick to point fingers at the faults of the less powerful in our society, be it foreign workers, homosexuals, Indians (the Seafield temple incident) and in this case, women. Yes, it’s always the women who are somehow to be blamed, never the lusty men.

But before anyone shames sugar babies, why aren’t people first shining the spotlight on rich, balding older men who go hunting for young trophy wives (often second wives)? Even worse, as Malaysiakini columnist R Nadeswaran has pointed out, what about the rampant cases (60 per month!) of older men marrying child brides with syariah court approval?

Vulgar display of wealth

Young ladies are constantly bombarded with messages – you are not good or beautiful enough until you get this dress, or use this cosmetic (“because you’re worth it” declares one brand). When they are constantly pushed to buy, buy, buy, is it fair for society to turn around and expect them to become nuns who declare abstinence from it all?

Peer pressure is real and powerful, take the recent case of a student ranting that his father didn’t purchase a Honda Civic for him but “only” a Perodua Myvi. “How can I drive the Myvi out to meet my friends? I simply can’t do it,” he moaned. Given these powerful social compulsions on the young, poorer students who lack actual rich daddies will find sugar daddies a tempting substitute, even if the affections are only saccharine.

We are not a Scandinavian country with an egalitarian ethos where people are discouraged from showing off their money. Modern Malaysia is gripped by an insecure mindset (“am I good enough?”) that compels ostentatious, even vulgar, displays of wealth.

Forget European examples, our leaders are not even living up to the modest lifestyles shown by Caliph Umar al Khathab or by Tok Guru Nik Aziz. On the contrary, Dr Mahathir Mohamed pointed out that “even kings don’t do weddings like Najib’s family” where the flowers alone allegedly cost RM3 million.

Sadly, if we expected the “holy politicians” of PAS to show a better example, the Kelantan government bought 14 Mercedes-Benz official cars even though it’s the poorest state in Peninsular Malaysia.

In other words, our whole culture screams materialism and consumerism with the mall as our Sacred Temple and shopping as our True Religion. When social worth is measured based on what car you drive (men) and what clothes, handbags and shoes you wear (women), don’t be surprised when people are willing to do “whatever it takes” to get the goods. Everything, including love and sex, becomes a commodity.

In the case of ladies handbags at least, the young are perhaps inspired by their “role model”, the wife of a former prime minister. Those bags were all “ori” (original) not fake Petaling Street pasar malam stuff, mind you. Could she afford them because, as she once hilariously claimed, she saved every sen since she was young?

If the allegations over 1MDB are true, what are our young people learning from our Yang Berhormat “honourable” leaders about getting rich the “quick and easy” way? Is stealing billions in public funds more or less “moral” than accepting a few hundred ringgit from a sugar daddy?

The good book says, let him who is without sin throw the first stone. So before anybody accuses sugar babies of being glorified “prostitutes”, they must first examine how our society has become so wantonly materialistic. And those in power who screw national morals for worldly gains may first have to accept that they could be political prostitutes.