SINGAPORE — The government will review shortcomings which led to the criminal prosecution of Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong’s former maid of nine years, who was last week acquitted by the High Court on four charges of theft.
Parti Liyani had initially been sentenced by a district judge to a jail term of two years and two months for stealing items worth a total of $34,000. Among the items listed in her charges were a DVD player that could not play, two outdated iPhone 4s which could not be switched on, and an Ikea bedsheet wrongly priced at $500.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a community event on Tuesday (8 September), Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam cautioned against a witch hunt, even as as the government undertakes the review in pursuit of public trust and accountability.
“The (High Court) judge’s comments, we take them very seriously. Something has gone wrong in the chain of events. We have to look at that, and deal with what went wrong,” Shanmugam was quoted as saying by news website Today.
According to broadsheet The Straits Times in an online article, the minister added, “In the process, we should not be defensive. It should not be a witch hunt. It’s got to be a fair process. We have to find out what happened, why it happened and then deal with it. And be accountable. That's the best way to build trust in public, in the system. To come out in public and say what steps we have taken once the reviews are done.”
On Sunday, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said the High Court judgment, which was released on Friday, “do raise questions which warrant further investigations” and that it will assess if further action ought to be taken.
The same day, the Ministry of Manpower said it was in consultation with the AGC to decide if further action ought to be taken; the ministry had already issued a caution to Liew for illegally deploying the maid.
Meanwhile, the police also on Sunday said it was studying the judgment. “Several observations about police’s investigations have been raised. The police are looking into them.”
Break in chain of evidence
In acquitting Parti Liyani, 46, of her four theft charges, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that the Liew family may have had an “improper motive” in filing a police report against her. The Indonesian had threatened to lodge a complaint against the Liew family for unlawfully assigning her cleaning duties at Liew’s son Karl’s house and office. Liew and Karl filed a police report two days after Parti left Singapore.
In his 100-page judgment, Justice Chan noted, among other things, that there was a break in the chain of custody of evidence. The Liew family handled allegedly stolen items for their daily use, and items were also put back into the three boxes containing allegedly stolen items.
“This creates a real possibility of a mix up of the items... with no clarity if the returned items are the same items that have been removed earlier,” said Justice Chan.
The police investigator had attended to the scene of the alleged crime only five weeks later. He also told the Liew family that they were free to make use of the evidence.
Said Justice Chan, “In my judgment, the police’s delay in (a) visiting the crime scene and taking photographs of the allegedly stolen items and (b) seizing the items, coupled with the mishandling of the exhibits by the complainants for their daily use created a clear break in the chain of custody of the evidence from their discovery on 29 October 2016 to 3 December 2016 when the photographs of the alleged exhibits were taken. This means that apart from the video footage (taken by the family), there is a lack of contemporaneous evidence of the specific items that were found in the three jumbo boxes allegedly stolen by Parti.”
Police statements taken without interpreter
The High Court judge also noted other shortcoming: police statements had been taken in a mix of English and Bahasa Melayu, without an official Bahasa Indonesia interpreter present.
For one statement that was recorded, the police investigator testified in court that after it was taken, he read it out in English, and then translated it into Bahasa Melayu. But the end of the written statement stated that it had been read back to Parti in English, which was not her native language.
Another statement was recorded in English and read back to her in Bahasa Melayu.
During cross-examination at Parti’s trial at the State Courts, the investigator conceded that there was a difference between Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia and he could have interpreted some of the Bahasa Indonesia words in a different way than it had been intended.
Justice Chan also noted that Parti was questioned by investigators not with reference to the actual physical items which were the subject of the proceeded charges, but instead with reference to the photographs of the numerous items.
In another police statement that was recorded from Parti, another investigator also wrongly referenced photos of items on four occasions.
Parti was also given poor quality black and white photos of items during the recording of police statements and did not recognise items clearly. Justice Chan said he agreed that the black and white photos were of poor quality.
Karl Liew didn’t take court process seriously
In his judgment, Justice Chan also said, “Karl was a witness who was not only lacking in credibility but also did not take the process of giving testimony seriously. Karl’s evidence was internally inconsistent and contradicted by the other witnesses. Karl’s testimony that he had in his possession multiple female items that Parti allegedly stole from him is also highly suspect.”
Testifying at the State Courts on the price of a watch allegedly given to him by his father, Karl said he valued it at $50. The elder Liew had earlier denied having owned the watch.
According to the court transcript, Karl said, “No, it was --- was something and, uh, even it costs you is $100 now. So if I take a really ugly looking watch, I divide into two (laughing), I mean it’s really possible that it will be $50 right because [inaudible] online is already a $100.”
Karl also initially alleged that smaller-sized, female clothing that Parti stole belonged to him.
“When confronted with the question if he had a ‘habit of wearing women’s clothes’, Karl replied that he sometimes wore women’s T-shirts. This assertion is highly unbelievable,” said Justice Chan.
Karl also insisted under cross-examination at Parti’s trial that two black women’s wallets were his. He testified that he always used a Gucci wallet but was unable to provide detailed evidence as to whether and when he used them.
He claimed the wallets were gifts from his family, but the Liew family testified that they did not gift him the items.
Justice Chan said he was “troubled by various aspects of Karl’s evidence that the (district) judge appears not to have considered.”
It was incumbent on her to appraise the entirety of his credibility, Justice Chan said, instead of “simply justifying Karl’s ostensible lack of credibility with his inability to recall if some items (including smaller-sized female clothing) had ever been in his possession or if he had ever worn them”.
The High Court judge added, “Karl’s own evidence was contradicted by the Liew family who testified that they did not gift Karl these wallets. The plain inference to be drawn from the (district) judge’s above conclusion is that Karl was not telling the truth in claiming possession over what appears to be women’s wallets. It is unclear how the judge could have arrived at the conclusion that it was likely that Karl was ‘mistaken’ about these two women’s wallets having been gifted to him.”
Karl, a former private banker, was made a bankrupt in early 2017. In January 2018, the High Court found that he was liable for $6.5 million in investments he had guaranteed a businessman, and that he was liable for deceit in making false representations about the investments, which were in China. The businessman had sued Karl for breaching the personal guarantees.
Then-Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim had said in her judgment that she found Karl, “to be a dishonest and evasive witness, whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies”.
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