Parti Liyani case: District Judge, DPP prevented defence counsel from questioning CAG chairman’s son’s credibility as witness

The attempts of former domestic worker Parti Liyani’s defence counsel to raise issues with the credibility of the Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman’s son as a witness were repeatedly hindered by the court and the prosecution during the trial in 2018.

Ms Parti was previously found guilty in the State Courts of stealing over S$34,000 worth of items belonging to CAG chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family.

She has since been acquitted of all charges by the High Court last week.

In the previous hearing on Ms Parti’s appeal against her sentence on 1 Nov last year, defence lawyer Anil Balchandani of Red Lion Circle pointed out that Karl Liew — Mr Liew’s son — is “not a stranger” to the judicial process.

The lawyer cited a 2017 case the younger Liew was involved in, where he was found liable of deceit by 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 ruled in 2018 that she found Mr Karl “to be a dishonest and evasive witness whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies”.

She observed that contrary to Mr 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 Lim had found him to be an unreliable witness as stated in the written judgement.

Ms Parti, on the other hand, has been consistent in her evidence and was largely able to recall details regarding the price of the items.

Both District Judge Olivia Low and Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying, however, 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, as Mr Karl’s previous case was of a civil nature.

While DPP Tan also argued that the contents of the judgement passed by Justice Lim were “so remote from the current proceedings”, Mr Anil pointed out that Mr Karl’s trial “occurred towards the end of 2017”, which was only “less than a year” and was therefore not as remote as the prosecutor had suggested so as to render Justice Lim’s observation irrelevant.

Judge Low reiterated her point that Mr Karl’s trial in 2017 was of a civil nature, and thus the judgement would not be relevant to his position or role as a witness in Ms Parti’s trial.

It would have been relevant for Mr Anil to cite the judgement, she said, if there was a case where Mr Karl had lodged similar complaints against previous domestic helpers in the past.

DPP Tan then sought to have Mr Anil’s question in relation to Justice Lim’s observations in Mr Karl’s case be struck off the court’s record, which Judge Low later appeared to have agreed with.

When prompted by Judge Low as to why Justice Lim’s judgement was relevant to the present case, Mr Anil argued that Justice Lim’s observations were telling of Mr Karl’s character as a witness in the court.

“Anyone who reads that judgment would know immediately what Justice Audrey Lim found of Karl Liew’s character. It is not specific to any part of the claim. It is specific to him as a person, it is not specific to any part of the damages. It is specific to him and—or his character,” said Mr Anil.

The lawyer argued that for the judge to believe Mr Karl, she would need to “assess” and “determine” his character in order to have a suitable gauge of the “veracity” of his statements.

“Justice Lim has done that for you,” he said.

“This is not about Justice Lim saying something specific in terms of, let’s say a house. This is about the character of Karl Liew as a witness in our Courts which is public.

“[B]ecause of that, it aids anyone, any public person or any person of the public to be better guarded in determining the character, veracity, accuracy of his testimony,” Mr Anil added.

Karl Liew lied about certain items including wallets given by Parti Liyani’s friend, Judge Low “completely erred” in accepting certain evidence from prosecution’s end: Defence Lawyer Anil Balchandani

During the District Court trial, Mr Liew testified that he suspected Ms Parti of stealing for years when he discovered that certain items went missing at his 39 Chancery Lane house.

In the previous hearing on Ms Parti’s appeal against her sentence on 1 Nov last year, however, Mr Anil 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, Ms 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.

The lawyer also noted that Mr Karl had not done anything regarding the kitchen items for 14 years.

Mr Anil 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 Diah Kapi, the latter of whom testified that she bought them at Takashimaya and Paragon. Ms Diah was also able to identify certain tears in the wallets.

Mr Liew, Karl Liew demonstrated “improper motives” in firing Parti Liyani, filing police report: Justice Chan Seng Onn

In his full judgement last Friday (4 September), which overturned the conviction and sentence passed down by Judge Low to Ms Parti, Justice Chan found that Mr Liew and Mr Karl’s actions demonstrated “improper motives” in terminating Ms Parti’s employment and making the police report against her.

“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.

Background of the case

Ms Parti was convicted in March last year of stealing items belonging to Mr Liew and his family — his son Mr Karl in particular.

Ms Parti’s employment was abruptly terminated on 28 Oct 2016.

Mr Liew had asked Mr Karl to oversee Ms Parti’s termination and repatriation process to Indonesia, as the former was abroad at the time.

Prior to being sent back to her home country, Ms Parti was given only three 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.

Judge Low sentenced Ms Parti to two years and two months of jail after removing items from and reducing value on the allegedly stolen items that Mr Anil had successfully disproved in the State Courts hearing.

The prosecution originally sought a three-year jail sentence.

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