On 4 September, the High Court dismissed the convictions of Parti Liyani, an Indonesian domestic worker for 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 in 2016.
A week later, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) withdrew its fifth charge against Ms Parti which is equivalent to full acquittal.
Ms 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.
The arrest warrant was issued by the Police a day after Mr Liew filed the police report without the police officer visiting Mr Liew’s house.
According to Court records, it appears that Ms Parti was also illegally deployed to Mr Liew’s son’s office and home to work without being paid adequately either. Ms Parti had refused to do the extra work and had said that she would file a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
The initial charge
According to the initial charge sheets, Ms Parti was alleged of stealing 114 items worth $50,856 belonging to Mr Liew, and three of his family members; his son and daughter-in-law, Mr Karl Liew and Ms Heather Lim Mei Ern, and his daughter, Ms Liew Cheng May.
The alleged theft was said to have taken place on 28 Oct 2016. Ms Parti was fired on the same day by her employer and was given two hours to pack before being sent back to Indonesia. Mr Liew then reported the alleged thefts two days later on 30 Oct.
According to the charge sheets, Ms Parti had allegedly stolen:
- a damaged Gerald Genta watch with a broken strap valued at S$25,000,
- two white iPhone 4s with accessories valued at S$2,056,
- 120 pieces of male clothing valued at S$150 each,
- a S$500 blanket,
- three S$100 bedsheets,
- a S$150 Philips DVD player,
- S$300 worth of kitchenware and utensils,
- a S$250 black Gucci wallet,
- a S$250 black Braun Buffel wallet
- a S$50 Helix watch.
- a S$1,000 Prada bag
- a pair of S$500 Gucci sunglasses with red stains on them
- a S$1,000 Pioneer DVD player
- two S$200 Longchamp bags
- a Vacheron Constantin watch with unknown value
- a S$75 Swatch watch
- S$775 worth of jewellery and fashion accessories, and
- a S$250 pair of Gucci sunglasses
Ms Parti’s defence was only allowed access to the alleged stolen items a few days before the commencement of the trial.
After a series of court hearings, Ms 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 had to remove certain items from the charges and reduce the value of the alleged stolen items to a total of S$34,000 due to the efforts of Mr Anil Balchandani from Red Lion Circle law firm who took the case pro bono.
Mr Anil had argued at his closing submission that he was only able to provide evidence for a few items out of the hundred odd items due to the lack of time and that it would be unfair if the court were to look at items individually and not at the allegations as a whole.
The prosecution originally sought a three-year jail sentence.
Take a look at the timeline of Parti Liyani’s trial from 2016 to 2019 compiled by researcher and HOME volunteer Stephanie Chok here.
The appeal and acquittal by the High Court
Ms Parti then filed an appeal against the conviction which was heard by Justice Chan Seng Onn. After three days of hearings between November 2019 to August 2020, Justice Chan ultimately overturned the convictions from the lower court as he finds them unsafe.
Matters which were disallowed in the state court hearing — such as Ms Parti’s MOM complaint — were introduced to the High Court hearing.
In allowing Ms Parti’s appeal against her conviction and jail sentence of two years and two months, the High Court 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.
The judge also 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 expressed threat to alert the MOM about her illegal deployment to the latter’s residence and office.
In his judgement, Justice Chan also made observations about the handling of evidence by authorities:
“In the above circumstances, I allow Parti’s appeal against all four charges against her. 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.”
Among other things, Justice Chan also identified numerous mistakes of an arguably serious nature that led to there being a failure to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that Ms Parti was guilty of theft. Included in this list of mistakes would be the way evidence was handled (or mishandled). These are issues that the AGC would have known about and yet they pressed ahead.
Some of these include that 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 Ms Parti.
The District Judge sentenced Ms Parti to 20 months of imprisonment for the second 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.”
For more details, read the below articles on the matters arising from the investigation, prosecution and trial of the charges faced by Ms Parti.
Following Parti’s acquittal, there was strong backlash against Mr Liew with the public calling for him to resign from all his corporate roles.
On 10 September, Mr Liew announced that he would retire from his public service and business roles at Changi Airport Group, Surbana Jurong, Temasek Foundation, and Temasek International.
Complaint against the AGC
Following her acquittal, Ms Parti took to court on 23 September 2020 to seek disciplinary proceedings against the prosecutors who dealt with her case. The two deputy public prosecutors listed in her case are Tan Wee Hao and Tan Yanying, both of whom are represented by AGC’s Kristy Tan Ruyan, Jeyendran Jeyapal, and Jocelyn Teo Meng Hui.
It was reported that Ms Parti’s originating summons was taken out on ex-parte basis, meaning the decision is decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties involved to be present.
This prompted the AGC to seek to be represented at the application hearing, and has also applied to submit court notes related to the case and relevant extracts of evidence given by Ms Parti and other witnesses.
The AGC also applied to place extracts from the record of proceedings in the State Courts trial, including relevant extracts of the court notes from part of the appeal hearing on 1 November last year by Ms Parti before Justice Chan.
Following the hearing, the AGC said in a statement that the two DPPs “welcome the chance to present a full and transparent account of what transpired during the trial” and “will cooperate fully in any inquiry”.
A month later on 3 October, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon granted Ms Parti leave to have an investigation carried out into her complaint of alleged misconduct against two prosecutors during her trial process.
CJ Menon in a written judgement stated–in reference to a Pioneer DVD player Ms Parti was accused of stealing–that Ms Parti “contends that the DPPs had, in their conduct of the trial, concealed material facts and thereby created the false impression that the device was fully functional”.
“She contends that but for the false impression that had been conveyed, she would not have agreed, under cross-examination, that the device was operational.
“On this basis, the DPPs suggested that she had lied about the circumstances in which the device came to be in her possession. However, if she had been apprised of all the facts, there would have been no basis for the DPPs to suggest that she had been lying,” said CJ Menon.
Parti seeks $71,000 compensation
Beyond that, Ms Parti is also seeking a compensation order against the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) over the criminal proceedings brought against her. Her defence counsel, Mr Anil, estimates that Ms Parti had suffered around S$71,000 in losses as a result of being unable to work due to the theft proceedings for the past four years.
S$41,000 from the estimated sum is for Ms Parti’s salaries including contractual increments over the past four years. The amount was calculated based on her experience of 20 years as a domestic worker.
The sum also includes S$29,220 for her accommodation expenses over four years at a shelter run by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
However, Justice Chan Seng Onn–the High Court judge who overturned Ms Parti’s conviction and sentencing–noted that the cost of court hearings for compensation order would exceed S$10,000, as the court needs to hear arguments on whether the prosecution was frivolous or vexatious.
The judge subsequently recommended out-of-court mediation with a third party to help both parties settle on a confidential amount of compensation.
Mr Anil replied that while he will consider the prospect of mediation, he and his client are of the view that there has been “some amount of injustice that we wish the court to hear and order compensation”.
Mr Anil also told Justice Chan that Ms Parti has decided not to seek compensation from her former employer Liew Mun Leong. He explained that Ms Parti had instructed him not to “add more to his problems”, particularly in light of Mr Liew’s resignation from his position as Changi Airport Group chairman, among other roles.
Deputy Chief Prosecutor Mohamed Faizal said on behalf of the AGC that it will respond on whether it is open to mediation by 30 October.
Should the prospect of mediation fail, Mr Anil and the prosecution will return at a later date to resume their arguments on Ms Parti’s compensation order.
Separately, when asked about how much this legal battle would have cost if it were not taken up pro bono, Mr Anil said it would come up to about S$150,000.