The case of Parti Liyani has sparked numerous criticisms from political figures, civil society activists and members of the public in Singapore — one of which is the police’s handling of evidence pertaining to the items allegedly stolen by the former domestic worker.
The police issued an arrest warrant against Ms Parti without checking with the complainant — her former employer Liew Mun Leong — on the First Information Report (FIR) he lodged against her on 30 October 2016.
Assistant Superintendent (ASP) Tang Ru Long testified in court during the trial in 2018 that he had put up a police gazette to issue a warrant of arrest against Ms Parti without meeting Mr Liew on the day the FIR was made and the next day.
Ms Parti was arrested at Changi Airport upon her arrival on 2 December the same year.
TOC understands from Ms Parti that when she was questioned by the police about the three jumbo boxes containing the alleged stolen items, she told the investigating officer that the boxes were still with the Liew family.
The police suspended the interview with Ms Parti immediately upon realising that the alleged stolen items were with the Liews.
ASP Tang visited the Liew family at 49 Chancery Lane and Mr Karl at 39 Chancery Lane the following day on 3 December with photographer Goh See Kiat to have the alleged stolen items photographed.
After the police had obtained photographs of the exhibits, Ms Parti was woken up from her sleep and called for questioning at 1.44 am on 4 December. Her interview lasted for four hours with no breaks.
When questioned by defence counsel Anil Balchandani during cross-examination on 23 April 2018 as to why he did not seize the items during that visit, ASP Tang said that “seizing the items will result in revictimising of the victims”.
The items from the three jumbo boxes were only taken into police custody by ASP Tang on 18 April 2018 — 16 months after Ms Parti’s arrest.
Ms Parti testified in court that during the interview on 4 December, she was not informed that she could ask for an interpreter. Instead, ASP Tang’s colleague, Staff Sergeant Amirudin bin Nordin, recorded her statements in English and translated them to Malay.
SSgt Amirudin testified during cross-examination with Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying that ASP Tang “did ask questions in English”, from which he would translate to Ms Parti in Malay.
After recording Ms Parti’s statements, he read them in English and translated them to Malay for Ms Parti to hear.
In his judgement earlier this month–which overturned Ms Parti’s conviction and sentencing in the State Courts–Justice Chan Seng Onn of the High Court ruled in favour of the defence’s arguments regarding the break in the chain of custody of evidence related to three jumbo boxes containing the allegedly stolen items.
Rehashing that the police did not seize the exhibits immediately and had even later permitted the Liew family to take back the items from the boxes for their daily use, Justice Chan said that this “creates a real possibility of a mix up of the items”, particularly if “no special markings” were made or “proper record” was kept of those items.
It was also uncertain if the returned items “are the same items that have been removed earlier”, he added.
“The Defence rightly submits that there was no contemporaneous evidence of the specific items, save for the Video recording, to determine with any level of certainty or precision as to what exact items were found inside the three boxes at the point in time which Parti left 49 CL,” he reasoned.
Karl Liew’s ability to only identify certain items from the video footage taken on 29 October 2016, added the judge, left “many items unaccounted for with reference to the items alleged to be stolen” from him in the second charge against Ms Parti.
“Further, the items allegedly stolen by Parti as reported in the FIR [First Information Report], which was vital contemporaneous evidence, were different from the items listed in the charges brought against Parti,” the judge added.
Justice Chan also highlighted that the police officer “did not attend or view the scene of the offences” — the senior Liew’s family home at 49 Chancery Lane — “until some five weeks later on 3 December 2016”, as the police officer had testified during cross-examination with Mr Anil in 2018.
“This was one day after Parti returned to Singapore on 2 December 2016 and was arrested,” the judge said, noting that only “the exhibits that were found in Parti’s possession” when she was arrested at Changi Airport were immediately seized by the police.
The police’s delay in visiting the crime scene and taking photographs of the allegedly stolen items as well as seizing the items, Justice Chan reasoned, “created a clear break in the chain of custody of the evidence from their discovery on 29 October 2016 to 3 December 2016 when the photographs of the alleged exhibits were taken”.
The break in the chain of custody of evidence was highlighted by Mr Anil in his cross-examination of ASP Tang, as seen below.
The Liew family’s “mishandling of the exhibits” for their daily use also solidified the break in the chain of custody of evidence, said the judge.
“The break in the chain of custody of evidence creates a reasonable doubt as to whether certain of the allegedly stolen items that were first discovered by the Liew family on 29 October 2016 were accurately documented by the photographs taken of the allegedly stolen items from the three jumbo boxes some five weeks later on 3 December 2016,” Justice Chan ruled.
Background of the case
Ms Parti was convicted in March last year of stealing items belonging to former Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family — his son Karl Liew 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.
Ms Parti was charged with stealing items totalling S$50,000.
The amount, however, was reduced to S$34,000 when District Judge Olivia Low removed several items from the charge sheet and reduced the estimated value of certain items, such as knocking down the value of a damaged Gerald Genta watched from S$25,000 to S$10,000.
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.
Earlier this month on 4 September, Justice Chan overturned the conviction and 26-month jail sentence passed down by Judge Low to Ms Parti last year in the State Courts, effectively clearing the Indonesian national of all charges made against her.
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.
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 the Ministry of Manpower about her illegal deployment to the latter’s residence and office.