The decision of the State Courts to set aside former domestic worker Parti Liyani’s evidence regarding her ownership of certain belongings stated in her theft charge and to admit others as proof of her having committed the offence raises questions on whether her conviction and subsequent sentencing were fair.
Ms Parti was convicted in Mar last year of stealing items belonging to former CapitaLand CEO Liew Mun Leong and his family — his son Karl Liew in particular — after her employment was terminated on 28 Oct 2016 and before being repatriated to Indonesia. Mr Liew had asked Mr Karl to oversee the termination and repatriation process as the former was abroad at the time.
During the District Court trial, Mr Liew had testified that he suspected Ms Parti of stealing for years when he discovered that certain items went missing at his Chancery Lane house.
Ms Parti’s termination was made purportedly after she had stolen a portable power bank gifted to him by a university in France that had invited him to give a guest lecture back in 2015.
District Judge Olivia Low sentenced Ms Parti to two years and two months of jail. She is currently appealing against the sentence.
Prior to being sent back to her home country, Ms Parti was given only two hours to pack her belongings despite having worked for the family for almost nine years. Mr Liew subsequently reported the purported theft on 30 Oct the same year after returning to Singapore. Less than two months later, Ms Parti was arrested at Changi Airport on 2 Dec upon her return to Singapore.
In the previous hearing on Ms Parti’s appeal against her sentence on 1 Nov last year, her lawyer Anil Balchandani from the Red Lion Circle law firm submitted to the High Court before Justice Chan Seng Onn that Judge Low had “completely erred” in accepting certain evidence put forth from the prosecution’s end, and for her to “just carve out what was convenient for her” in relation to the items included in the charge.
“Although allowable under Section 138 … of the CPC, it did a grave injustice to the defence, because the defence could only prove certain items and to establish her credibility,” he said.
Mr Anil pointed out that consent was given to Ms Parti for some of the items, while some others were “actually owned and purchased” by the former domestic worker herself.
Ms Parti’s lawyer submitted that Mr Karl had previously claimed to have bought kitchen utensils in 2002 in the UK, and a family member had attempted to corroborate this claim by testifying that Ms Parti had helped Mr Karl unpack them when he returned to Singapore in 2002.
However, Parti was only employed by Mr Liew in 2007, Mr Anil pointed out. Further, she was able to identify the pricing and dates of purchase pertaining to the utensils, as she was the one who had purchased most of them at a secondhand store, except for one bought using NTUC rewards.
An independent witness named Ms Teo had testified that a black handle knife that was part of the kitchen utensils in dispute above could only have been made in 2006, speaking from the perspective of the manager and director of Jarmay Enterprises, the firm that made the knife.
Judge Low, however, had decided to set aside Ms Teo’s evidence as the latter had alleged harassment from the defence lawyer despite only having been issued a writ to attend court once, according to Mr Anil.
Further, Mr Anil highlighted that the utensils were stored “in a box covered with a sheet” at “the back of the house”.
If Karl claimed they were his, he could have taken them back or taken them because they were his, argued Mr Anil and noted that Mr Karl had not done anything regarding the kitchen items for 14 years.
Mr Anil also highlighted that a quilt cover from IKEA belonging to Ms Parti has the same pattern as a bedsheet Mr Karl said he had bought at Habitat in the United Kingdom as a student.
The lawyer argued that his client had, in fact, bought both the quilt cover and the bedsheet, and was able to provide information on the price, location and the approximate time she bought the items.
Mr Anil argued that it was wrong for Judge Low to have removed the quilt cover from the list of items in Ms Parti’s charge — the District Judge reasoned that it was not an item of men’s clothing — as doing so does not address his client’s reasonable evidence regarding the matching IKEA quilt cover and bedsheet.
Judge Low, according to Mr Anil, even said that it needs to be proven that “Habitat does not sell IKEA items”, which to the lawyer is an indication that the judge “was not accepting facts that are before her”.
Mr Karl, said Mr Anil, had also lied about two wallets previously included in Ms Parti’s charge, and said they were given by his relatives.
However, the lawyer pointed out that Mr Karl was unable to answer other questions regarding the wallets, which Judge Low had acknowledged.
His client, on the other hand, said that the wallets were given by her domestic worker friend Dia Kapi, the latter of whom testified that she bought them at Takashimaya and Paragon. Ms Dia was also able to identify certain tears in the wallets.
Pointing out that Mr Karl is “not a stranger” to the judicial process, Mr Anil also referred to a 2017 case the younger Liew was involved in where he was found liable of deceit making false representations to businessman Alan Zhou about the latter’s investments in China.
Mr Karl was a business partner of Mr Zhou at the time.
Justice Audrey Lim said in 2018 that she found Mr Karl “to be a dishonest and evasive witness whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies”.
She found that contrary to Karl’s claim that Mr Zhou had transferred the investment funds without his prior approval, he was in fact “aware of the transactions and money transfers… as he was copied”.
Mr Anil argued that Justice Audrey Lim had found him to be an unreliable witness as stated in the written judgement. His client, on the other hand, has been consistent in her evidence, and was largely able to recall details regarding the price of the items.
Parti was seeking to report her illegal deployment at Karl Liew’s office and home at 39 Chancery Lane to MOM: Parti’s lawyer Anil Balchandani
Mr Anil also alleged that the police report filed by the Liews against Parti — a few days after she left the country — was possibly made due to Ms Parti expressing her intention to make a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower regarding her illegal deployment at Mr Karl’s home at 39 Chancery Lane and his office at Killiney Road.
Mr Karl had purportedly asked Ms Parti to clean his house at 39 Chancery Lane, which Mr Karl resided with Ms Heather and their children after they had moved out of Mr Liew’s family home at 49 Chancery Lane in Mar 2016.
When Ms Parti was packing to leave on the day her employment was terminated, Mr Anil said that Ms Parti had purportedly given a black trash bag containing men’s clothing to Karl which she had received from another domestic worker named Ms Jane who had worked for Karl, some months back.
Ms Parti “had never really looked inside the bag” and had “never wanted it”, and ended up giving the bag to Mr Karl, said Mr Anil.
Mr Karl had then testified on the witness stand about himself wearing women’s clothes — referring to the oversized T-shirts and shirts bought by his mother — that were present in the bag.
However, according to Mr Anil, the bag contained men’s clothing no longer worn by Mr Karl given to Ms Parti by Mrs Liew, as well as Ms Parti’s own clothes — and two blouses that were not packed by Ms Parti, which belonged to Mr Karl’s wife Heather.
While Mr Karl had taken Ms Jane to work in his home at 39 Chancery Lane, she quit her job in Sep 2016, leaving them with no domestic helper at the time. Ms Parti was thus asked to do cleaning works at both the family home — the senior Mr Liew’s home — and Mr Karl’s home.
Mr Anil said that Ms Heather had also asked Ms Parti via text message to pick up her children — evidence that was “disregarded” by Judge Low as she found Ms Heather a “credible” witness.
In addition, Ms Parti was also asked to clean Mr Karl’s office in Killiney Road at a point of time for a period of a year until the office closed.
This was again the case when Ms Parti was asked to do outside Mr Liew’s family home for Karl’s home and told Mrs Liew that the workload was “too much” for her. A week or two afterwards, Ms Parti’s employment was terminated.
“That is something that we believe would have hurt the Liews’ interest, a complaint [by Ms Parti to MOM],” Mr Anil charged.
Ms Parti, on the other end, “is a vulnerable person” defined within Singapore laws, and “is not in any position to make assertions”.
Mr Anil argued that it is very easy to make baseless accusations to keep the maids out of the system and there is evidence to show that the District Judge had to agree with the defence in terms of the allegedly stolen wallet as it cannot be Karl’s. The District Judge also had to side with the defence about the black dress and the red blouse, because it clearly could not be his.
He also argued that it does not make sense for Parti to be stealing the clothes and spoiled items, as the Liew’s household was riddled or filled with priceless artefacts which included watches “over S$20,000”.
Mr Anil asserted that Parti could have easily taken any one of the valuables which is worth way more than what she could have gotten by selling the used items and clothes.
The prosecution countered Mr Anil’s allegations, stating that the Liews had no reason to lie, and noted that Mrs Liew had given Ms Parti three months’ worth of salary amounting to S$1,800 after Mr Liew had terminated her employment.
Public Prosecutor Marcus Foo contended that Ms Parti was paid “over and above her salary” for her work in Mr Karl’s home and office.
When prompted by Justice Chan as to what form the remuneration took and to what extent Ms Parti was compensated for her work in the aforementioned places, Mr Foo said that she was paid around S$20 to S$30.
The judge further probed if the amount was meant for one day, to which Mr Foo replied that it was “for the service performed in question”.
Justice Chan responded with an analogy to illustrate whether the remuneration made for Ms Parti’s additional workload was fair: “$20 to perform 100 hours of work is peanuts”.
He suggested that the value of compensation must be reasonable, putting aside the issue of whether the work Ms Parti was asked to do was legal.
The hearing on 1 Nov was adjourned to this week on Mon (17 Feb), during which the prosecutors continued their submissions.