by Augustine Low
It was a basic question that took four years to be asked.
Had it been asked earlier, it could have saved Parti Liyani from all her troubles and trauma, from languishing in a shelter for four years while awaiting the conclusion of her case of stealing from the home of Liew Mun Leong.
Defence lawyer Anil Balchandani who acted pro-bono for Parti and successfully secured her acquittal, appears in a video put up by HOME (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics), the non-governmental organisation which provided shelter, food and financial assistance to Parti for four years. The video was shot a week before the High Court ruling on 4 September.
Balchandani spoke of the breakthrough: “I think the maybe memorable or most lucky point that we had was we asked the (high) court to have all the items presented before it . . . . and the court agreed. And that allowed us to present to the court what you can’t see in pictures.”
Once the “stolen” items were presented in court, the effect was telling, said Balchandani: “So the condition of the items, the clothes, the rags, the very old DVD players, the earrings, the jewellery that was outdated – you could see it in a photograph but you will not appreciate it until you see it. And slowly we were, you know, we were able to inch forward. And we have to basically convince the judge, why would someone steal junk?”
Indeed, why would anyone go through the trouble of stealing things which even the rag-and-bone man might reject?
And why wasn’t it a question the police, prosecution and district judge all thought of asking?
Only at the High Court was this question finally addressed. In his lengthy 100-page judgement, Justice Chan Seng Onn pointed to some aspects of this, including the case of a Pioneer DVD player which was allegedly stolen by Parti. She denied the theft, saying it was disposed of by the Liew family because it was “spoilt” and she kept it to bring home to Indonesia for repair.
Justice Chan believed Parti: “As its name suggests, a DVD player’s main function is to play a DVD . . . a DVD player that is unable to play DVD can reasonably be described as ‘spoilt.’”
The judge applied common sense. As was the case when Parti was accused of stealing clothes belonging to Karl Liew, the son of Liew Mun Leong. This strangely included women’s clothing apparel. When asked at the trial if he “had a habit of wearing women’s clothes” Karl actually said that he sometimes wore women’s T-shirts. Justice Chan found this assertion to be “unbelievable”.
So the Parti Liyani case is now to be reviewed by multiple parties because something has “gone wrong in the chain of events”, according to Law Minister K Shanmugam.
They could start by reviewing why nobody thought of asking the most basic questions – such as why would anybody want to steal junk, and how could a man have clothes “stolen” from him that included women’s apparel.