The founder of a sugar dating site is facing trial in Malaysia for allegedly causing “fear or alarm” to the public, with authorities pressuring him to disclose the identities of “people in power” using the site.
Darren Chan, who launched Sugarbook in 2017, was arrested in Kuala Lumpur in February following a rise in the site’s popularity among female students in Malaysia. He is set to stand trial in May and could be jailed for up to two years.
Investigating the site, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission said: “The police will take further action if there are elements of prostitution involved.”
Operating like US sites such as Seeking Arrangement, Sugarbook matches young female ‘sugar babies’ with older male ‘sugar daddies’, with the latter often financially supporting the former with money and gifts.
In early 2021, Sugarbook was banned by Malaysian authorities after concerns about “immoral activities”. The site is promoted with the tagline, ‘Where romance meets finance’, and before the ban Chan said nearly 13,000 students in Malaysia used it.
At the end of 2020, Sugarbook claimed to have one million global users, and that 20 million messages had been sent on the site that year. It announced that the most valuable gift a ‘sugar baby’ had received from a ‘sugar daddy’ on the site was a Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Although officially banned in the southeast Asian country, Sugarbook’s site was still functioning in April 2021 and was accessible from within Malaysia by using a virtual private network (VPN).
Chan was charged with publishing a “statement, rumour or report” that could cause “fear or alarm to the public”, or that could induce a person to “commit an offence against the state or against the public tranquility”.
He told Vice that he was resisting demands from the Malaysian government to hand over personal details of Sugarbook members who are celebrities or “”extremely influential people in power”.
His comments sparked interest in the Malaysian media about who the ‘big name’ sugar daddies were.
Chan said he took data and privacy “very seriously and will never compromise anyone’s personal identity. The authorities have requested for the names and addresses of our premium members but I repeatedly refused to disclose any information.”
He added that Sugarbook had never promoted prostitution or human trafficking.
“None of the young women registered as sugar babies have ever been forced to sell their bodies,” he said. “We empower them to have absolute control of who they want to meet and engage with.”
After Sugarbook was banned in Malaysia, Chan tweeted that the site did not have “any form of nudity, adult content or prostitution”.
He said that due to the pressure in Malaysia he may refocus Sugarbook on markets such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Tokyo.
Malaysia is certainly not the only country in which sugar dating sites are controversial. Seeking Arrangement came under scrutiny this month when it was revealed that Matt Gaetz, a Republican US House of Representatives member being investigated with regard to sex trafficking, reportedly used the site to meet women.