On Friday (4 Sep), the High Court dismissed the convictions of Parti Liyani, an Indonesian domestic worker for the four theft charges brought against her by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), four years after she was first arrested by the Singapore Police at the Changi Airport.
Parti was arrested in Dec 2016 after returning to Singapore as there was an arrest warrant for her. Mr Liew Mun Leong, Changi Airport Group Chairman, whom she had worked eight years for, had earlier filed a police report against her two days after her service was abruptly terminated and sent back to Indonesia, claiming that she had stolen valuables from the family members.
After a series of investigations and court hearings, Parti was sentenced 26 months of imprisonment by District Judge Olivia Low on 25 Mar 2019. The sentence was reduced to this amount as District Judge removed certain items from the charges and reduce the value of the alleged stolen items due to the efforts of Mr Anil Balchandani from Red Lion Circle law firm.
Parti then filed an appeal against the conviction and Justice Chan Seng Onn who heard the appeal, overturned the convictions from the lower court as he finds them unsafe.
In his judgement, Justice Chan wrote in conclusion:
I first observe that in the present case, which involved a voluminous number of items, the proper handling of the evidence by the police and recording of the allegedly stolen items is crucial in order to preserve the chain of custody of the items. Coupled with the existence of an improper motive by members of the Liew family for mounting the allegations against Parti, I find that the convictions against Parti are unsafe and accordingly acquit her of all the charges.
From the detailed judgement from Justice Chan, it is clear that this is not a case where the accused was acquitted because of some legal technicality but based on the merits of the defence’s argument.
While the public is focused on the false allegation of theft made by the Liew family, we have to also look at the troubling manner in how the investigation of the alleged offences and hearing of the charges were conducted.
Below are some of the troubling issues arising from since Dec 2016.
1. Police had issued an arrest warrant for Parti right after a police report was filed by Mr Liew. This is even before they got to verify whether the theft took place and confirm the items alleged to be stolen from the Liews.
It was only after the arrest of Parti on 2 Dec 2016 that the Investigating Officer (IO) paid the first visit to 49 Chancery Lane to take photos of the alleged stolen items. It is noted that not all the items were photographed.
2. After taking photos of the alleged stolen items, Police left the evidence with the Liews and recovered the items just a few days before the hearing in April 2018.
This meant the Police left the evidence with the Liews for close to two and a half years. The IO said that this is because the Police did not want to the withholding of the alleged stolen items to result in the “re-victimising” of the Liews. A couple of items were declared missing by the Police.
3. No attempt was made by the prosecution or the police to assess the value of the alleged stolen items stated by the Liews when the charges were filed against Parti.
Note that the District Judge sentenced Parti to 20 months of imprisonment for the 2nd charge based on the total value of the items taken for each charge.
Justice Chan commented on the District Judge’s decision to ignore the assessment of the expert brought in by the Defence, “The Judge failed to consider the unchallenged expert evidence on the authenticity and the working condition of the above two watches.”
4. The interviews conducted by the Police with Parti were using photos instead of the physical evidence as the Police had left the evidence with the Liews. Two interviews were conducted using black and white photos and one using color print outs, read out in Bahasa Malay instead of Bahasa Indonesian. Even so, the last interview which was conducted in Bahasa Indonesian, had 70 questions over the span of 4 hours 15 mins with no breaks in between. This meant each question only took 3.5 mins on average and note that there was an interpreter involved in the questioning.
5. The Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) concealed evidence such as the fact that the DVD player which Parti was alleged to have stolen, was in fact, malfunctioning – It cannot play DVDs but at the hearing, the Prosecution played from the memory drive of the DVD player, giving an impression that it was working perfectly.
6. Prosecution picked at supposed inconsistencies at Parti’s statements as basis for stating that she is not credible. District Judge used these inconsistencies as basis of her judgement to convict Parti, however High Court Judge ruled these inconsistencies as understandable due to the translation during the interview and poor quality of photos used for the questioning.
7. At the same time while picking at the inconsistencies of Parti’s statements, Prosecution made no issue of the testimonies made by the Liew family while Justice Chan raised doubts over the prosecution witnesses’ testimonies. These inconsistencies were ignored or accepted by the District Judge.
8. The DPPs objected to the introduction of evidence by the Defence throughout the entire hearing at the State Court. These evidence which were ruled irrelevant by the District Judge during the hearing, were later admitted by the High Court and used as basis of why the charges against Parti were unsafe.
For example, the prosecution objected to the introduction of the complaint complaint to Ministry of Manpower over Parti’s illegal deployment as evidence for the Defence.
This could explain why the Liews had a motive of filing a police report against Parti even when no actual theft occurred. Justice Chan noted that the possible complaint by Parti formed the factual basis for Parti’s defence in relation to the complainants’ motive behind framing her.
The DPPs also objected to the introduction of a judgement involving Karl Liew — Mr Liew’s son, where Justice Audrey Lim regarded Karl “to be a dishonest and evasive witness whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies”.
9. In light of the evidence presented by the Defence, DPP Tan Wee Hao still sought at least three years’ imprisonment of Parti.
And note, what is written above is just a portion of the problems over the past four years.
While we are thankful for the judgement delivered by Justice Chan with his astute observations, we have to note that not every accused would have the same determination as Parti to seek justice till the very end or to have the good fortune of having the assistance of a non-government organisation such as HOME and friends who would support him or her regardless of class and financial standing.
So will the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Law follow up on this case and review if there are anything wrong with the current procedures or any violations of procedures. Because as it stands, the justice system at the lower courts is at risk of losing its credibility.