Born in Singapore, Tan moved to the U.K. at the age of 12 to study music. In 1977, with his compulsory national service looming, he enrolled in the Royal College of Music rather than return to Singapore. A year later, he renounced his Singaporean citizenship.
The pianist did not return to Singapore again until April of this year, when, motivated by a desire to visit his aging parents and to serve as a juror in the National Piano and Violin Competition, he faced charges of evading national service.
The maximum penalty for evading the draft is a S$5,000 and three years in jail; Tan was fined S$3,000 and given no jail sentence. Some observers said he had been let off easy because of his stature; others pointed out that light sentences are relatively common for draft evaders. Defense minister Teo Chee Hean has since proposed that the law be changed to make jail sentences mandatory.
Meanwhile, Tan canceled a sold-out concert and withdrew as a juror for the competition; he has been replaced by Australian pianist Caroline Almonte.