The High Court’s decision last Friday to acquit former domestic worker Parti Liyani of theft charges highlighted her former employer’s goal to prevent her from lodging a formal complaint to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding her illegal deployment to his son’s residence and office.
Ms Parti was previously found guilty in the State Courts of stealing over S$34,000 worth of items belonging to Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family.
Justice Chan Seng Onn, in allowing Ms Parti’s appeal against her conviction and jail sentence of two years and two months, branded the Liew family as having “improper motives” against Ms Parti.
The “improper motives” revolved around Mr Liew and his son Karl Liew’s plans to lodge a police report against her to stop her from notifying MOM regarding the cleaning work she was made to do at Mr Karl’s home at 39 Chancery Lane and his office at Killiney Road.
In a hearing before District Judge Olivia Low two years ago, however, Ms Parti’s counsel Anil Balchandani of Red Lion Circle was repeatedly prevented from raising the issue of his client’s intention to alert MOM regarding the illegal deployment.
Both the judge and Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying branded Mr Anil’s attempts to highlight the issue during his cross-examination of Mr Karl — called as a witness by the prosecution — as “irrelevant”, with Judge Low stating that matters pertaining to the MOM investigations are of a civil nature.
Mr Anil, at one point, however, argued that DPP Tan protested his move to raise the issue out of fear of “what may come out of this”.
“This is relevant because it is very close to the events of October 2016, when Parti was asked to leave,” he submitted.
Judge Low, however, said that while she would “allow that line of questioning”, she did not believe “it should extend to MOM investigations” and that she would allow the prosecution to object should Mr Anil continue to raise the matter.
In the same hearing, which took place on 16 July 2018, Judge Low said: “Any MOM investigations which are not before me are not relevant, you see”.
When Mr Anil highlighted that the judge had disallowed him from asking questions on possible MOM investigations, Judge Low reiterated that there was no need for the defence counsel to delve into the MOM investigations, as “there will be no end to the Cross-Examination”.
Parti had “ample basis” to lodge complaint to MOM over illegal deployment”: Justice Chan Seng Onn
In his full judgement, spanning over a hundred pages, Justice Chan reasoned that “there was in fact ample basis for Parti to make a complaint to the MOM” based on the evidence shown by Parti regarding the “illegal cleaning work” she was asked to carry out at Mr Karl’s residence at 39 Chancery Lane and at his office.
“Parti’s evidence is that she received $10 for two to three days of work, and the payment was not regular,” he said.
Justice Chan also drew attention to conflicts between the domestic worker and the Liew family involving Ms Parti’s refusal to clean the toilet in Mr Karl’s residence and her objection against making extra food for him.
“Further, when Karl told Parti that her employment was terminated, her immediate response to him was “I know why. You angry because I refused to clean up your toilet”,” the judge noted.
On top of Ms Parti making her unhappiness evident regarding being made to do the illegal cleaning work “probably without adequate compensation”, Justice Chan highlighted that such an arrangement “was illegal and an offence against the MOM regulations”.
Under MOM’s rules on hiring foreign domestic workers, a domestic worker is only permitted to work for her employer and at the residential address stated in her Work Permit.
The only exception listed on the MOM website is if it is necessary for the domestic worker to be placed at another address for the purpose of caring for the employer’s young children or elderly parents during day time.
The penalty for illegal deployment of a foreign domestic worker is a fine of up to S$10,000 and possibly a ban on hiring foreign domestic workers.
Justice Chan reasoned that Ms Parti’s express mention of her intentions to complain to MOM about her illegal deployment “would most likely have meant that Parti would immediately lose her job”.
Such a prospect, he noted, might have placed Ms Parti in “in a dilemma as to whether she should make such a complaint or even tell the Liew family that she intended to do so” if she continued to be asked to do work outside of Mr Liew’s home at 49 Chancery Lane.
The earlier disputes, however, may have served as “hints to the Liew family” that Ms Parti was not keen on doing work outside of Mr Liew’s home, said Justice Chan.
“In my judgment, there is reason to believe that the Liew family, upon realising her unhappiness, took the pre-emptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly without giving her sufficient time for her to pack, in the hope that Parti would not use the time to make a complaint to MOM,” he reasoned.
The police report lodged by the Liews after Ms Parti explicitly stated her desire to notify MOM of her illegal deployment after her sudden termination, Justice Chan observed, was a way to “ensure her return would be prevented”.
“Given the seriousness of the consequences that might follow from what Parti said she would do, I have reason to believe that the Liew family would be very concerned that Parti would carry out her threat to report the matter to MOM,” he said.
The Liew family’s decision to abruptly terminate Ms Parti’s employment, noted Justice Chan, was based on items that went missing “over the years” and not those were recently discovered to be missing around the time the termination took place.
“In my view, this is not believable and it is more likely that the fear of Parti’s complaint to MOM rendered her termination urgent, at least in the eyes of the Liew family,” he said.
Based on the above, said Justice Chan, the prosecution had “failed to dispel the reasonable doubt” mounted by the defence.
He stressed that the prosecution had failed to demonstrate that there was no improper motive by Mr Liew and Mr Karl in making the police report against Ms Parti “just two days” after she made an express threat to alert MOM about her illegal deployment.
Parti Liyani “a vulnerable person” defined within Singapore laws, “not in any position to make assertions”: Defence lawyer Anil Balchandani
In the previous hearing on Ms Parti’s appeal against her sentence on 1 November last year, Mr Anil submitted that the police report filed by the Liews against Ms Parti — a few days after she left the country — was possibly made due to Ms Parti expressing her intention to make a complaint to MOM regarding her illegal deployment.
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.
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”.
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.
Background of the case
Ms Parti was convicted in March last year of stealing items belonging to Mr Liew 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.
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 October the same year after returning to Singapore. Less than two months later, Ms Parti was arrested at Changi Airport on 2 December upon her return to Singapore.
District Judge Olivia Low sentenced Ms Parti to two years and two months of jail, following which Ms Parti made her appeal against the conviction and the jail sentence.