Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong's maid acquitted of theft: High Court

Parti Liyani and her lawyer Anil Balchandani exiting the High Court on 4 September after her acquittal. (PHOTO: Grace Baey)
Parti Liyani and her lawyer Anil Balchandani exiting the High Court on 4 September after her acquittal. (PHOTO: Grace Baey)

SINGAPORE — A domestic helper accused of stealing belongings from the household of Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong was acquitted of all four theft charges on Friday (4 September), with a High Court judge finding that the Liew family may have had an “improper motive” in filing a police report against her.

When Indonesian Parti Liyani, 46, was informed of the decision to terminate her employment, she had threatened to file a complaint against the Liew family for assigning her cleaning duties outside of Liew’s house – she had been asked to clean the home and office of Liew’s son, Karl. In turn, the Liew family could have filed a police report two days after Parti had been placed on a plane back to Indonesia.

Parti had been convicted and sentenced to 26 months’ jail in the State Courts over stealing items worth more than $34,000 from Liew’s household. These items belonged to Liew, Karl, Karl’s wife Heather Lim Mei Ern, and Liew’s daughter May Liew Cheng.

In overturning her conviction, Justice Chan Seng Onn said, “Given the seriousness of the consequences that might follow from what Parti said she would do, I have reason to believe that the Liew family would be very concerned that Parti would carry out her threat to report the matter to MOM (Ministry of Manpower).”

“I find that the Prosecution has failed to dispel the reasonable doubt raised by the Defence and show that there was no improper motive by Mr Liew and Karl in making the police report.”

The judge said that the family could have taken the “preemptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly” so that she would not have time to pack and hence make her complaint.

Said Justice Chan, “The Liew family followed up with a police report to ensure her return would be prevented. In my view, the Liew family might not have made a police report had Parti not made her express threat on 28 October 2016 to report the matter to MOM.”

Delay in securing items in question

Among his reasons for overturning Parti’s conviction, the judge also raised the break in the chain of custody of evidence and called into question Karl Liew’s credibility as a prosecution witness.

There was a delay in securing the ‘stolen’ items between the time they were discovered on 29 October and 3 December 2016 when photos were taken of them, the judge noted. As a result, the Liew family was able to take the items out for daily use, which could have resulted in a mix up.

On Karl Liew, the judge said that he was “not only lacking in credibility but did not take process of giving evidence seriously”. He added that Karl Liew’s evidence was contradictory and inconsistent with other witnesses.

That Karl Liew had in his possession multiple female clothing that Parti allegedly stole from him was “highly suspect” said Justice Chan, especially given how the clothes were observed to be “smaller-sized”.

The judge noted that many items that were allegedly stolen were of a poor condition, such as a pair of Gucci sunglasses with a red stain and a frayed Prada bag. He stated that the District Judge had failed to consider that the unchallenged expert witnesses’ account of the authenticity of three watches, two of which were counterfeit, and the last one a free gift.

Thus, Justice Chan found it unsafe to convict Parti.

Following the acquittal, Parti’s pro bono lawyer, Anil Balchandani told the court that his client will be seeking compensation from the Liew family, which will take into account her loss of income in the four years she was unable to work while the court case was pending. The lawyer estimated the loss to be “several tens of thousands”.

Throughout her case, Parti had been staying at a shelter run by migrant worker advocacy group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics. Parti, who gave emotional hugs to her supporters and lawyer, appeared relieved when she was given the acquittal.

Speaking to reporters through an interpreter outside the court, Parti, who is single, said that she intends to return to Indonesia to be with her mother.

“I’m so glad that I’m finally free. I’ve been fighting for four years now and I have been strong all this while,” said Parti.

However, she will not be able to return immediately, as she still faces one pending charge for fraudulent possession of stolen items from unknown victims. Balchandani said that he was ready to challenge the charge.

Of her lawyer’s help, Parti said that she was “very grateful” and did not know how to pay him back.

Case background

Parti had been employed by the Liew family for over nine years until she was dismissed on 28 October 2016, with Karl Liew and two representatives from her employment agency giving her two hours to pack before she was to be sent back to her home country. With the aid of the family’s two drivers, Parti then packed her belongings into three jumbo boxes which she requested that Karl Liew send to her address in Indonesia.

The items included a DVD player valued at $1,000, two Longchamp bags worth $400, a Gerald Genta watch worth $10,000, two white iPhone 4 smartphones with accessories valued at $2,056, 115 pieces of clothing valued at $150 each, and a $500 blanket.

A day after Parti left however, the family decided to open the boxes and found what they claimed to be their belongings within it. Karl Liew and his father filed a police report on 30 October 2016.

On 2 December 2016, Parti returned to Singapore and was arrested at the airport, where she was found in possession of more items that allegedly belonged to the Liew family.

Parti appealed the conviction and sentencing in the High Court. The defence argued that Parti had bought some items; and that some items were given to her and some items she found after they were discarded; and that the rest of the items were not packed by her.

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