The decision to reveal the criminal record of the driver who filmed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s son after picking him up was in the “public interest”, to give a fuller explanation of the police investigations, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam wrote in response to a Parliamentary question on Monday (1 April).
He added that the public might “misunderstand the police’s actions” if the police did not reveal its security concerns.
Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, was responding to a question from Aljunied GRC Member of Parliament and Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim, who asked about the regulations and guidelines in place to ensure that the authorities and media do not publish prejudicial information about suspects in ongoing investigations and proceedings.
Yahoo News Singapore had also reported that lawyers are divided in their opinion over the release of the driver’s criminal record.
Video of PM Lee’s son circulated on social media
The incident occurred last month, when PM Lee’s eldest son, Li Yipeng, was being filmed by a 31-year-old man who offered him a ride in his private car on 15 March. In the video, which was circulated on social media, the man can be heard repeatedly asking Li about his identity, residential address and security arrangements.
The police released a media statement on 17 March, saying that they were investigating the video recordings with the driver’s assistance, as the nature of the questions “raises serious security concerns”.
In a separate statement released on the same day, the police also said that the driver had been previously convicted of taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent in 2014.
In response, Shanmugam said that he had directed the police to release the second statement, stating the man’s criminal record without disclosing his name.
“If the police did not set out their security concerns, the public may not grasp why the police were investigating the matter, and may even misunderstand the police’s actions,” he said in his written reply. “It was important to provide the public relevant and specific facts, in order to maintain public confidence in the police force.”
Shanmugam also confirmed in his written reply that the man had also been given a warning for a theft in dwelling in 2002 and a report was made against him for criminal intimidation in 2014.
Need to release information quicker
He acknowledged that the police’s decisions on what information to disclose are guided by existing legal requirements.
“With the proliferation of social media, public agencies will from time to time need to release information faster than used to be the case,” he said. “It may not always be possible in all cases to wait for a trial to commence or be concluded, a process which may take weeks or months, before releasing relevant facts to the public.
“When the police assess that it is necessary to release information earlier, they will do so, while being careful not to prejudice any investigations or legal proceedings that may follow.”
Shanmugam also shared more details about the incident in his written response, indicating that the car which the man drove was not licensed for ride-sharing. In fact, ride-hailing company Grab had terminated the man’s contract last November for driving without proper decals and for suspected touting.
He added that the driver recognised Li, who was waiting for a taxi, and decided to pick him up.
“Mr Li is a vulnerable person. It is public knowledge that Mr Li has Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism spectrum disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and in non-verbal communication. This is compounded by Mr Li’s albinism, which results in him having very poor eyesight,” he wrote.
“Leaving aside Mr Li’s background, it is very troubling when an individual picks up any vulnerable person, whether adult or child, and puts that person in such a situation.”
Shanmugam said that the police were concerned for Mr Li’s security, as the man made repeated references to Li’s home address, and pressed Li on the security arrangements at PM Lee’s home. He added, “The questions he asked showed that he already knew Mr Li’s identity.”