A FORMER senior associate engineer with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) was fined $4,000 yesterday for stealing a $1,800 laptop that belonged to the agency.

On Sept 6 last year, Lee Kian Heng noticed that the HP Elitebook issued three days earlier to his colleague to use on projects was unattended and unsecured by a cable wire. He walked past his colleague's desk twice before deciding to steal the computer.

Lee, 33, reformatted the laptop and reset it to its factory settings so he could use it, deleting data classified as "restricted", said court documents. The laptop was later recovered from his home.

Calling for at least a large fine, Deputy Public Prosecutor Winston Man pointed out that Lee, then 32, had at the time been working for an agency which handled sensitive information.

Defence lawyer Louis Joseph said Lee, who was formally dismissed by DSTA the following month, had taken what "looked like a shiny object" in a moment of "unbelievable stupidity". Lee took the laptop for personal use and had no intention of selling it, added Mr Joseph.

The maximum penalty for theft is jail of three years and a fine.