By Richard Wan
It was reported that former Member of Parliament from People's Action Party (PAP) and NTUC chief Phey Yew Kok was sentenced in court yesterday (22 Jan) to 5 years' jail after pleading guilty to 12 charges [Link]. Another 22 charges were taken into consideration during sentencing.
Phey was said to have been talent-spotted by Singapore's former President Nathan in 1963 to join NTUC [Link]. Back then, Mr Nathan was the director of the NTUC's Labour Research Unit.
Phey had absconded from Singapore and was on the run for 36 years.
The 12 charges which Phey pleaded guilty to include 10 counts of criminal breach of trust, one count of abetting the fabrication of false evidence to a public servant and one count of failing to attend court.
In the additional charges, Phey is also accused of dipping into the staff funds of the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO), and the Pioneer Industries Employees Union (PIEU).
In sentencing Phey, Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie said of Phey [Link], "The facts reveal that Phey, like a serial criminal, systematically and with deliberation over a period of six years, perpetrated these offences. He had no qualms in trying to evade detection and had the temerity to instigate his staff to fabricate false evidence."
"His remorse, belatedly, does not displace the serious and aggravating nature of his offences and I attach little significance to this," said Judge Marie. In other words, even the Judge did not consider Phey's remorse seriously.
Judge Marie's comment on Phey reminds one of another trial also linked to Phey Yew Kok - the trial of Tan Wah Piow and 2 other workers, accused of rioting and destroying union assets. The incident was said to have taken place at the PIEU headquarter in the Jurong Industrial Estate in 1974. Phey was then the Secretary-General of PIEU, which was set up by NTUC to woo workers in the factories then sprouting up in Jurong [Link].
At the time of the incident, the workers were being laid off by American Marine, which was facing financial problems itself. The workers and the company were disputing over retrenchment benefits. Wah Piow, as the president of the University of Singapore’s Students’ Union (USSU) was mobilizing students to help workers in seeking social justice.
PIEU rioting incident
During the trial in 1974, the principal prosecution witness, Lawrence Kwek, who was the Assistant Secretary-General of PIEU, testified that he saw Wah Piow, Ng and Yap rioting inside PIEU premises [Link]. Kwek was subordinated to Phey, the Secretary-General.
On 30 Oct 1974, there was a crowd gathering outside PIEU premises. The prosecution said that Kwek had the front door locked to prevent the crowd from entering and occupying the building [Link].
Later, Kwek heard banging on the rear door. He went to open it and saw Wah Piow outside. Kwek told the court [Link], "Tan beckoned to me and said: 'You come out, I want to talk to you' But I replied: 'You come in one at a time. I will talk to you."
"Tan then said: 'If you dare not come out you are a bastard.' I ignored him and stood there for a while. I then closed the door without locking it. I did not know whether he (Tan) was a PIEU member."
"After a while I went back to the general secretary's room, locked the door and attended to my work. After a short while, I heard knocks on the wooden part of the door. I heard a voice in English: 'Is that Lawrence Kwek?' I replied: 'Who are you?' and walked up to the door. I looked through the frosted glass on the door and could make out the shadows of 5 people."
"I put my head near the pane and suddenly the pane was broken. I put both my hands in front of my face to protect it from the broken glass. As a result my right hand was injured and a big piece of broken glass fell on my right ankle. I straightaway opened the door and saw Tan and one 'Botak' each armed with a short stick. Behind them were 3 others, one of whom was Ng. Another 2 men and Yap were in the corridor."
"When I saw that they were armed with sticks I was frightened they might hit me. When they tried to hit me I caught hold of the sticks and put up a struggle. Bot Tan and Botak later managed to pull their sticks free. Botak tried to hit me but I dodged the blow and the stick smashed the glass pane of another door."
"I put up a fight with them and I remember that I kicked Tan in the stomach. My assailants then ran along the corridor towards the hall. I followed and shouted: 'Catch them! Don't let them run away!' Eventually both of them got into the hall. I heard the noise of tables and chairs being overturned in the hall. I also heard the sound of breaking glass."
"Soon after this, both the accused ran back into the passage. I tried to catch Tan but he managed to free himself. I kicked a chair so as to upset it and block their way of escape. I saw Yap holding the rear door open for Tan and Botak. When Tan almost reached the door, she ran out and the other 2 followed her. I then telephoned the police."
Testimonies of defence witnesses
At the trial, the defence was able to produce witnesses to testify that the 3 accused weren't inside the PIEU premises when the incident was alleged to have happened.
The defence team was able to produce 2 witnesses who testified that they were inside PIEU premises that day and, in fact, saw Kwek himself breaking a glass pane and ordering other union officials to overturn tables and chairs [Link]. The 2 witnesses also testified that they did not see Wah Piow, Ng or Yap inside PIEU when the incident happened.
In addition, an ST reporter, Jacob Daniel, also came forward to give testimony in defence of the accused. Mr Daniel revealed that he saw Wah Piow standing across the road opposite and outside PIEU premises at the time when he heard the sound of crashing glass and furniture being overturned inside the PIEU office [Link].
He also testified that one of the accused, Yap was actually among the workers outside the PIEU premises. Mr Daniel told the court, "... I moved around the workers (outside PIEU premises) again and went back to Miss Juliet Chin (SU student who was later deported from Singapore). Miss Chin told me that the union officials were not 'giving an audience' to the workers and that Mr Phey Yew Kok had failed to turn up to meet his union members as he has promised."
"It was then that the windows and the doors of the PIEU premises were slammed shut simultaneously. The workers were all shouting that they were all outside and that none of them were inside."
"They were shouting in Chinese and Miss Chin told me what they were shouting. There were a few women who were shouting and gesticulating at the top of their voices. Among them was a short woman who was obviously their leader. She was the third accused (Yap). She was the shortest of the whole lot and was making the most noise."
"About a minute after the windows and door were slammed shut, I heard the sound of crashing glass and of furniture being overturned. I asked the workers whether there were any of their colleagues inside. I met with a negative answer from more than 5 workers and also from Madam Yap and Miss Chin."
So, essentially, Mr Daniel was saying that Yap was with him outside PIEU premises at the time when things were overturned inside PIEU office.
Another defence witness, Choo Hoo Lai, who was an ex-branch chairman of PIEU said that he saw Kwek scattering magazines on the floor and kick over a chair when Choo entered the PIEU premises shortly after he heard the commotion inside PIEU [Link]. Choo said that Kwek also ordered 2 other people in the premises to scatter the magazines onto the floor and to overturn chairs.
"Kwek did most of it. The other 2 assisted him. I cannot recollect who the other people are. Kwek scattered the magazines and kicked over 1 chair. I was seated inside and did not pay attention to what the other 2 did."
Judge ruled against accused
At the end of the trial, Senior District Judge T S Sinnathuray chose to believe the testimony of the principal prosecution witness, Assistant Secretary-General Lawrence Kwek, and dismissed all the testimonies of the defence witnesses. Wah Piow, Ng and Yap, were found guilty for the rioting [Link].
Judge Sinnathuray said, "The defence of a frame-up is a miserable and mischievous attempt that has altogether failed. On the other hand, it has been proved to the hilt that the 3 accused and their witnesses have fabricated evidence to pervert the course of justice, in the hope that they would succeed to creating a reasonable doubt that would entitle them to an acquittal."
During mitigation, Wah Piow became emotional and lashed out at the judge, "You can imprison my body but not my spirit." The judge then ordered Wah Piow to be taken down to the lock-up saying that he would be dealt with for contempt later.
Ng and Yap decided to speak up for themselves instead of going through their lawyers during mitigation. Both also reaffirmed that they had not committed any offences.
Ng told the judge, "I am not asking your honour to lessen my guilt because I have not committed the offence"
The judge, however, told Ng that he had to accept the court's decision. Ng's right, if he was not satisfied, was to appeal against the decision, the judge said.
Yap spoke directly to the judge, "I consider myself not guilty and I am not asking for leniency from the court."
"Your honour's judgement is very unreasonable and unfair," she said.
The judge then also told her of her right to appeal but she replied, "I have not committed the offence. There is no need for me to appeal."
Returning back to yesterday's sentencing against Phey and Judge Marie's comment on Phey that he "had the temerity to instigate his staff to fabricate false evidence", one could very well ask if Phey has also instigated any of his subordinates to "fabricate false evidence" over the PIEU incident some 40 years ago.
What do you think?