Speaking in a ministerial statement on Wednesday (4 November), Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said that reviews by the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) have confirmed that there was no improper influence at any point in the case of Indonesian domestic worker, Parti Liyani who was acquitted of all charges theft by the High Court on 4 Sept this year.
In response to Non-constituency Member of Parliament, Leong Mun Wai’s question of whether would he look into convening a committee of inquiry into the case, the Minister said that he is willing to convene an independent committee or Commission of Inquiry (COI) if the NCMP can inform him of the matters for the COI to look into.
While Leong stumbled in his first reply, he recovered and nearly got it right in his second attempt at answering the Minister’s call for particulars when he pointed out the various lapses which indicate possible systematic issues in the justice system.
However, Leong backed off after the Minister derailed him by harping on about how disciplinary actions have been taken in relation to the lapses of the police officers, and that the prosecutors are currently being reviewed by a Disciplinary Tribunal.
But can these series of internal reviews said by the Minister really get to the bottom of the matter?
Let us go back to the beginning of the case in 2016 and ask ourselves these questions.
How was it possible for an arrest warrant to be issued against Parti just a day after the police report was filed by Mr Liew Mun Leong accompanied by his son, without the Investigating Officer (IO) first double checking on the details of the alleged offence reported by the Liews?
Bear in mind that the police only discovered that the alleged items were still with the Liews after they arrested Parti at the airport and conducted her first interview.
Sure, the Minister said that the superior of the IO who approved the arrest warrant will be punished as well. But does that address the question of how this was possible in the first place?
We know that the Police went down to the Liews’ family home to take a look at the alleged stolen items five weeks later. However, instead of collecting the evidence, they left the items there with the Liews’ so as not to “revictimise” the family.
We also know that the IO had told the forensic officer to sketch three boxes of alleged stolen items in the Liews’ living room when there was actually only two boxes at the time the Police visited. In truth, one of the boxes had already been moved by then. The sketch of three boxes gave the impression that the evidence was not touched by the family.
The details of the six-months long investigation were then passed to the AGC to determine if Parti should be charged. After two months following clarification with the Police, the AGC decided to press four charges of theft against Parti in Aug 2017 and then another charge for items of which ownership cannot be ascertained by AGC.
So apart from the two prosecutors being questioned for their antics during the hearing, what about the officer in the AGC who decided, based on the flawed evidence from the Police, to charge Parti?
It is claimed by AGC that neither the Attorney General or its Deputy Attorney General decided to go forward with the charges. Then who did? And why are the officers who handled the case not being investigated as well? Why were there no alarm bells sounding off regarding the contamination of evidence as observed by High Court Justice Chan Seng Onn in his findings of the appeal which acquitted Parti?
Minister K Shan has not denied that this is untrue so why did the AGC not consider this matter before charges were even filed?
Furthermore, the Minister, in his address on Wednesday, failed to deal with the fifth charge filed by the AGC. The fifth charge, which was redrawn by the AGC following the acquittal, was regarding items that were in Parti’s possession.
Also, why did this AGC officer feel or think it was for justice sake to charge Parti for items which the Liews did not even include in their initial report? The Minister did not even reveal who approved the five charges against Parti.
Bear in mind that if Parti was not acquitted by the High Court judge, this charge would have stood and she would have had to serve more than 26 months imprisonment.
So answers for the above questions can only be served by having the officer(s) answer these questions in an independent inquiry and not an internal review.
On top of everything stated above, there is also the issue of withholding of evidence from the Defence. Looking at the timeline above, it was 16 months before Parti could view the alleged stolen items physically. Her Defence counsel could do so only 4 days before the hearing began.
How was this allowed in the name of justice? Apparently the High Court judge took issue on this fact, but can the DPPs answer for this matter under the current disciplinary tribunal? Who allowed them to do this?
The above mentioned questions relate to just the investigation and deliberation of prosecution, but there are also questions about the proceedings at the State Court. Didn’t the DPPs find anything wrong with the evidence provided by their witnesses? What about the State Court judge?
This is compounded with the observations raised by the High Court judge about the testimonies provided by the prosecution witnesses which he found to be unreliable and not credible.
Furthermore, I was in the public gallery observing the conduct of the proceedings over the course of 2018 and 2019. Parti’s defence counsel, Anil Balchandani was fighting the case with his hands tied behind his back with the constant objections to his line of questioning from both the DPPs and the State Court judge.
Rather than taking it as a standard procedure as claimed by Minister Shanmugam in his ministerial statement, it seems to me that the prosecution was trying to convict Parti at all cost.
This brings me to the fact that the District Judge—who found Parti guilty of the charges without any reasonable doubt and found that the Liews had provided credible testimony during the course of the hearing—is now a Deputy Senior State Counsel. She was transferred just over a month after she delivered the guilty verdict on Parti in 2019.
A question that comes to mind on this matter is when did the District Judge know she was being transferred to the Attorney General’s Chambers as a Deputy Senior State Counsel? Would this appointment have had any influence on her duties as a judge, leading to the flawed verdict we now see clearly since we have been apprised of the facts of the case?
Even if former CEO of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Group, Liew Mun Leong was not involved in the decision to prosecute Parti, did anyone or any entities impose undue influence on the conduct of the public service officers? Can internal reviews by the individuals departments provide the public satisfying answers? The answer is obviously no.
It bears to note what NCMP Leong said about how these mistakes could have been overlooked by the different agencies. If it was just a lapse within a department, why did no one sound out the issue earlier, leaving it to reach all the way to the High Court in order for justice to prevail?
With all that has been mentioned and more left untold, it is incredible that Minister Shanmugam can assure that internal reviews on the matter of the Parti Liyani incident can resolve the shortcomings of the Singapore justice system. Where exactly were the checks and balances for the justice system? Are the public officers involved such as the IO, disciplined as scapegoats in place of the justice system that is much in need of a revamp as what the Workers’ Party had called for.
Before anyone dare to say that are recourses available for injustice in the system since Parti was acquitted by the High Court, I would like to ask if Parti did not have the support of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) and her pro bono defence lawyer who helped her these last four years, could justice have seen the light of day?
It is surely on the minds of many that only by hauling all those involved in the case to be cross-examined under an independent committee of inquiry can the truth be told.