Former Drew & Napier lawyer accused of molesting colleague claims police officer offered to close matter

(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
(Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A lawyer formerly from top law firm Drew & Napier is on trial for molesting his female colleague.

The ancillary trial for the man, who is now working in another law firm, opened on Monday (11 November). He faces one count of molesting the colleague and three counts of insulting her modesty.

His charge sheets state that he molested the colleague on 11 October 2017 by pressing his thigh against her upper arm in the law firm’s office. He is also accused of taking a photo of her panties on the same occasion.

The man is also accused of using his handphone to take photographs of the colleague’s panties and of her chest and bra in April 2017 in the office. He cannot be named to protect the identity of the victim.

Denying the offences on Monday, the man disputed the contents of a statement given to the police. He alleged that the investigating officer for the case, Thanabalan Kothandapani, had promised him that the matter would not be escalated if he were to make a confession, apologised, and revealed where the compromising photographs were kept.

“He said the matter wouldn’t go to the Attorney-General’s Chambers and he would close the matter,” said the man, whose age was redacted from court documents. The IO allegedly made the offer on 10 November 2017.

The prosecution, represented by DPP Marshall Lim, pointed out that the man, having graduated from law school with top honours from a local university, should have known that the offer was problematic.

But the man said, “I didn’t think there was a problem so long as the statement wasn’t used in court.”

The DPP then asked, “As a trained lawyer, you didn’t tell him that you would not participate in such an offer?”

The man replied, “No. To be frank I did not think that there was anything weird at the time, I thought that IOs had the power not to refer all matters to Chambers…especially since he told me it was because (the victim) did not want to pursue the matter.”

DPP Lim asked, “Did you not think it odd that an IO could dictate whether a case proceeded or not? Did you not ask him?”

He added, “I think at the point of time I was already in shock, I mean when such allegations are made against you for the first time in your life and even if a person is a lawyer, you really wouldn’t be in the right state of mind to articulate the law.”

Feeling suicidal

When questioned by his lawyer Tan Hee Joek, the man said that the incident had made him suicidal.

“I was very distraught as this was the first time in my life that I was called up for police investigation and I was honestly very stunned by the fact that my best friend in the team would make the complaint against me,” said the man.

He sought the advice of two friends the day after the interview but was anxious to have the matter concluded. He called IO Thanabalan on 13 November, stating that he wanted to accept the alleged offer.

The man then considered the contents of his apology and how to explain that he did not have the photos in his phone.

“I wanted to do it in a way which would appease (the victim) and obviously I could not say that I did not take the photos,” he added.

“I was quite foolish and I thought of downloading some photos from the internet and just submitting the photos, but I thought that it was too risky as she may recognise that that was not her.” He decided to lie that he had immediately deleted the photos.

Emails to colleague

When he arrived at the Police Cantonment Complex on 14 November to make the confession, he saw a second female colleague at the police station.

Fearing that this colleague might “blow things up”, the man sent her three emails within 20 minutes in order to “get her off (his) back”.

In his first email to the woman, the man said, “Please I have never done anything wrong in my life except for this one mistake, I treated everyone nicely and with my heart.” In his second email, he referred to his mother’s liver condition, saying that she would not be able to take the blow.

Minutes later, the man sent a third email to the woman, stating that he was about to “come clean” and that he “really loved the team”.

He also sent an email to the victim apologising for the alleged offence and asking for mercy, “I am on the verge of taking my own life and it is just my friends who are keeping me alive. I’ve always treated you sincerely and honestly save for the times when I was very stressed and I committed those mistakes. I didn’t keep any footage. I always deleted them within minutes cos (sic) I will feel so guilty.”

DPP Lim said that the man’s emails to the second colleague was a full admission of the offences that he had committed, to which the man disagreed.

After sending the emails, the man gave a statement to the police which he claimed he did not read before he signed off.

“I was happy to simply agree with any allegations made against me so long as the matter could be closed,” he said.

The trial resumes on Tuesday.

In response to media queries, Drew & Napier said it has a “strict zero-tolerance policy” towards misconduct of any nature.

The firm added, “We are fully committed to ensuring that every single member of our firm feels safe, and that reported cases of misconduct, sexual or otherwise, are responded to swiftly. Appropriate steps were taken when the allegations came to light. As the matter is before the Courts, we cannot comment further at this time.”