Shanmugam, Sylvia Lim clash over Woffles Wu case

Deborah Choo

A debate over the case involving one of Singapore’s most prominent plastic surgeon grew heated in Parliament on Monday.

Responding to questions by Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim regarding the conviction of Dr Woffles Wu Tze Liang for abetment of giving false information to the police, Law Minister K Shanmugam gave the facts regarding the matter and a schedule of cases where a fine was imposed.

The minister then asked Lim, who is chairman of the opposition Workers' Party, whether she would agree that the sentence imposed on Wu was in line broadly with the cases cited.

Wu was fined $1,000 in June for abetting his employee, 82-year old Kuan Yit Wah, to take the rap for him for two speeding tickets in 2005 and 2006. However, after the report on the fine came out, some members of the public went online to wonder why Wu was not given a heavier sentence under the Penal code.

In her reply to Shanmugam's question, Lim explained the reason for her inquiry was because of the issue in the public discussion about equitability of the legal system.

"While I am aware of some of those cases where fines were imposed, there were also other cases where imprisonment was imposed,” Lim said.

She then cited "aggravating factors" in the case and said, "I wonder if Minister would agree with that?”

Shanmugam retorted, “I would be happy to answer them but I noticed Ms Lim avoided answering whether she thinks, and she is a qualified lawyer, whether the cases that I’ve listed suggest that Dr Wu’s case and the treatment fell broadly in line with the punishments meted out in those six cases between 2004 and 2007. Could I have an answer?”

As the debate went on, Shanmugam then said, “Can Ms Lim identify a single case where on such facts, a custodial sentence was imposed? One case?”

Shanmugam continued, “What I was saying is, it would be helpful in the context of statements that Ms Lim and others have made in the past that we can actually in this House debate issues, look at issues, without having to inject politics into it.”

It was then that Workers’ Party chief Low Thia Khiang stepped in.

“Point of Order, Mr Speaker, whether this is a session for question for oral answer, or a session for debate? Ms Lim basically asked a question, a matter of public interest, why is there a need for the Minister for Law to invoke such a debate? Is he trying to impose some form of intimidation?” he asked.

Shanmugam however quickly defended himself, saying that “these questions are entirely capable of being answered”.

He had also cited six cases between 2004 and 2007 to emphasise that Wu’s verdict was consistent to the six where no jail term was imposed. 

Lim clarified, “Unless the Minister says that there is no public concern on this matter – which I would be very surprised to hear – Sir, I just want the Minister to confirm whether he is questioning my motive in filing the question? Is he alleging bad faith on my part to cast aspersions on the legal system?”

To which, Shanmugam clarified he had no “motives” involved, and urged Lim to leave politics out of the case.

He said the explanation of the six cases was in hopes “for what is really an obvious answer, that having looked at these cases, Ms Lim would be fair enough to say, “Yes, I agree. The judgment in Dr Wu’s case comes within the framework here.”

He continued, “I gave her three opportunities, she did not. It is not a question of questioning the motive, but it is, rather, hoping because of these statements that have been made in various places about the Attorney-General and our judicial system, that between two lawyers, Ms Lim and myself, we can put to rest these allegations in a fair, transparent open way. But it is not to be.”

Shanmugam wrapped the session saying that he is “glad” no allegations have been made against the AGC. “I am happy to hear that no allegation whatsoever is being made against AGC, so we can all at least move on, on the basis that they exercise their discretion properly.”