Singapore’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam abused his parliamentary privilege to smear Indonesian national Parti Liyani’s name and cast doubt on the High Court’s decision to overturn her conviction on appeal, said Reform Party chief and blogger Kenneth Jeyaretnam.
Mr Jeyaretnam pointed out that although High Court’s decision to acquit Ms Parti of four theft charges in September gave Singaporeans hope to reform the country’s criminal justice system, but Mr Shanmugam managed to whitewash the entire system and undermine the independence of the judiciary when he delivered a ministerial statement about the case in Parliament last week.
“Despite naïve hopes expressed by many Singaporeans that the flaws exposed by the Parti Liyani case should lead to reform of the criminal justice system, Shanmugam not only whitewashed the whole system but also undermined the independence of the judiciary,” Mr Jeyaretnam explained in an article on his blog titled “Shanmugam Abuses Parliamentary Privilege to Retry and Convict Parti Liyani”.
He added, “He cast doubt on the High Court’s decision to overturn Parti Liyani’s appeal and smeared her as someone who had stolen from her employers but had been lucky to get away with it.”
“Because he said it in Parliament Ms Liyani is not able to sue him for defamation because Parliamentary speech is rightly privileged. He also exonerated Liew Mun Leong and the DPP,” wrote Mr Jeyaretnam.
On 4 November, Mr Shanmugam gave a lengthy speech to address the case of Ms Parti, a former domestic worker who was acquitted of stealing from her ex-employers – the family of former Changi Airport Group Chairman Liew Mun Leong.
In his speech, the Law Minister addressed an array of issues ranging from the police investigations to multiple inconsistencies in Parti’s testimonies the case.
Citing an article by the Straits Times – which presented seven takeaways from Mr Shanmugam’s speech – Mr Jeyaretnam pointed out his comments on each of the takeaways.
1. The decision of the Liews to terminate Ms Parti Liyani’s employment was made some time ago
Justice Chan Seng Onn said in his judgement that Ms Parti’s termination was “sudden” and believed that there was reason to believe that this happened as it was a “pre-emptive first step” by the Liews to make sure she will not be able to complain to the Ministry of Manpower.
However, Mr Shanmugam noted that further investigations revealed that the Liews had informed their maid agency by end of 2015 that they want a new domestic help as they suspected Ms Parti was stealing.
To this, Mr Jeyaretnam said that this “proves nothing” and the Law Minister did not even provide any evidence to his claim.
“If the Liews suspected Ms Liyani of stealing in 2015 why did they not get rid of her then and make a police report? Why wait until nearly a year later? It is more likely that they were unhappy with her previously expressed unwillingness to be deployed illegally outside her place of employment and her refusal to clean the toilet at Karl’s home,” the blogger said.
He added, “The question arises as to why Shanmugam and the Law Ministry are working so hard pro bono to exculpate Mr Liew from any suggestion that he had filed a police report to prevent Ms Liyani’s return to Singapore and ensure that she could not report him to Ministry of Manpower (MOM. Will he be performing any more pro bono services for other accused persons?”
2. Police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had handled the case as a routine theft case
In his speech, Mr Shanmugam noted that there was no undue influence on the police or the AGC by Mr Liew, or anyone else acting on behalf of the family.
As a comment to this, Mr Jeyaretnam stated that Justice Chan said that a Warrant of Arrest was issued against the Indonesian national following a police report made on 30 October 2016. She was arrested at Changi Airport upon her return to the Republic on 2 December 2016 even though the Investigating Officer didn’t visit the scene of the offence until 3 December.
“Why was a Warrant of Arrest issued and why was Parti arrested when the police had not even bothered to check if a crime had been committed and that there was sufficient evidence to suspect her? Is that usual?
“My experience of the Singapore police from when my family received death threats is that that they are reluctant to even question a suspect uncles there is substantial evidence. This seems like special treatment and the police was not unduly worried by due process niceties like ensuring there was no opportunity to tamper with the evidence,” the alternative party leader noted.
3. The AGC had reason to charge Ms Parti for the crime based on the evidence before them
Mr Shanmugam expressed that initial investigations had enough evidence to charge Ms Parti for theft.
However, Mr Jeyaretnam questioned that how is it possible for the domestic worker to be charged given that the police didn’t visit the crime scene immediately. He also noted that she had left the alleged stolen items in the company of her former employers, giving them a chance to tamper with the evidence.
“The police seem to have been extraordinarily relaxed, even telling the Liews that they could use the allegedly stolen items,” he added.
“Ms Liyani’s experience shows the importance of reforming the criminal justice system by providing defendants with access to lawyers as soon as they are arrested and of the state paying for this if the accused is unable to afford a lawyer,” he said.
4. Mr Karl Liew’s “highly unsatisfactory” evidence and conduct during trial
The leader of Reform Party pointed out that Mr Shanmugam failed to explain why the trial judge accepted Mr Karl’s evidence given that he was previously found liable for “deceit” in another case.
“Shanmugam has also handed a ‘get out of jail free’ card to Liew Mun Leong (LMW) who gets off scot-free despite being the person who filed the police report and was Ms Liyani’s employer,” Mr Jeyaretnam said, adding that LMW should be prosecuted by MOM for illegally deploying his maid.
“Shanmugam has not explained why MOM only issued a caution against his wife and an advisory to Karl when LMW was the employer and why they have decided today to take no further action after reviewing the case, even though Josephine Teo’s husband inexplicably left the board of Surbana Jurong (where LMW was Chair) a few days after the High Court judgement,” he noted.
5. Attorney-General (AG) Lucien Wong recused himself from the case because his history of differences with Mr Liew could affect the perception of fairness
Mr Shanmugam said that AG Lucien Wong resigned from the Board of Directors of CapitaLand as he had a “difference of viewpoints” with Mr Liew on some issues.
To this, Mr Jeyaretnam revealed that AG Wong only recused himself after the High Court’s judgement. Although he was not involved in prosecuting Ms Parti, but him being on the board of CapitaLand with LMW could have influenced the DPPs, the blogger noted.
“I have written elsewhere about the need for reform of the AG’s office to separate the prosecutorial function from the AG’s role as the Government’s adviser,” he asserted.
6. The District Judge had convicted Ms Parti after she had found “serious inconsistencies” in Ms Parti’s evidence, among others
Mr Jeyaretnam asked why is Mr Shanmugam trying to cast doubt on Justice Chan’s reversal of Ms Parti’s conviction.
“Justice Chan has reversed Ms Liyani’s conviction so why is Shanmugam trying to cast doubt on the validity of that reversal and defame her by suggesting she was a liar?”
The blogger said that LMW’s probably has a net worth of over S$100 million so it’s rather believable for the items to be discarded and for Ms Liyani to retrieve them. “Justice Chan also found that the Liews had deliberately inflated the value of many of the items they said Ms Liyani had stolen,” he added.
7. The High Court had acquitted Ms Parti primarily based on the finding that there was reasonable doubt of improper motive, and a break in the chain of custody for allegedly stolen items
The Reform Party chief said that since there was a time lag between the police report and when the police visited the crime scene, this clearly shows that this is a case that failed the most basic evidential burden and it should not even be brought.
“Despite his abuse of Parliamentary privilege to smear someone whom he knows cannot fight back, Shanmugam has failed to dispel suspicions that Singapore’s justice system is rigged in favour of those at the top and the individuals who are connected to them.
“Whether you are a vulnerable person, like Ms Liyani, a political opponent like JBJ or the editor of a mildly critical blog like TOC, it seems that the AG is only too ready to prosecute those deemed threats and protect the privileged access of our rulers and their cronies to positions of obscene profit from state resources,” Mr Jeyaretnam concluded.