By now, all of Singapore would be familiar with the case of Parti Liyani, an Indonesian foreign domestic worker who was accused, charged, and later acquitted of theft.
Ms Parti, who endured four years of legal battles against her accusers and former employers, ex-Changi Airport Group Chairman Mr Liew Mun Leong and his family who accused her of stealing items belonging to the family amounting to S$50,000.
While she was initially convicted by a District Judge, Ms Parti persevered in fighting to clear her name and asserting her innocence with the help of pro-bono lawyer Anil Balchandani. Their efforts paid off when the High Court finally acquitted party of all charges in August 2020—four years after she was first arrested.
Now finally able to return home, Parti flew back to Indonesia on 27 January 2021.
In a follow report by Channel NewsAsia with Parti in Indonesia, she was quoted as saying, “If you’re innocent, don’t give up”, adding that she hopes her acquittal can inspire other migrant workers.
On the CNA Facebook post sharing this article, one commenter said that “she admitted of theft but got lucky because Karl Liew didn’t take his witness role seriously”, implying that she was acquitted on a technicality and that she was in fact guilty of theft.
Other insisted that she had admitted to stealing.
A “recipe for disaster” due to lack of proper translator
Now, this is incontrovertibly untrue. Ms Parti had consistently asserted her innocence.
In fact, one of the most pertinent issues raised by Justice Chan Seng Onn in overturning Ms Parti’s charges is the issue of an absence of a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter in four instances whereby the investigating officers took statements from the Indonesian national.
Two investigating officers took Ms Parti’s statements on five separate occasions in December 2016, with only the final one having involved a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter.
She repeatedly testified at trial that she was not given a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter when her statement was recorded, and told the court that she did not have an interpreter not because she declined to have one, but because she was not informed that she could ask for one.
Ms Parti also said that she did not feel comfortable that the investigating officer did not give her “any choice”.
This translation issue was taken into account by Justice Chan in determining that the conviction made against Parti was unsafe, noting despite “some similarity between the languages of Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu”, it cannot be assumed that such similarity in and of itself could remove “any reasonable doubt” with regards to the accuracy of the recorded statements.
A research going by the name “Farah” in an online repository dedicated to documenting Parti’s case explained a concept in linguistics called “false friends”, in which there are “words with a similar look or sound but significantly different meanings” in different languages.
In Ms Parti’s case, an example of “false friends” is her explanation of where she had placed the Pioneer DVD she was accused of stealing. She testified in court at trial that she stated that she had put the DVD player near one of the boxes that contained the alleged stolen items.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Yanying, however, had put it to Ms Parti during her cross-examination that the domestic worker had placed the DVD player in the box, inferring such from Ms Parti’s second statement, which was recorded by SSgt Amirudin.
It should be noted that the investigating officer recorded her statement in English before reading it back to her in Malay.
In his judgement, Justice Ong also noted that the District Judge had failed to consider the circumstances of which Parti’s interview was recorded, noting that it was recorded in English and read to Parti in Bahasa Melayu, which is likely to have been “misheard or mistranslated”.
He added, “Parti testified that an example of this is at Q14/A14 of P33, where her answer was inaccurately recorded as her having said that she had placed the Pioneer DVD player “into” one of the three boxes, when she had actually placed it “near” the boxes and was not sure if Robin had put it inside the box.”
“While nothing material turns on this alleged error, this is an example of how the mistranslation could have occurred in the statement recording process,” he explained.
There were also “obvious errors” in a couple of other questions which “supports the likelihood that IO Amir made errors in accurately recording P33 itself, especially given the fact that the statement was recorded at 1.44am to 5.57am on 4 December 2016,” said the judge.
Testimony shows that Karl Liew didn’t claim the alleged stolen items as his
Beyond Ms Parti’s own assertion, the Defence had also highlighted in the appeal hearing that Mr Karl’s testimony on the alleged stolen items were contradictory to what could be heard of the conversation between him and his mother, Ng Lai Peng. The video was played in court.
Mrs Liew was heard making a remark on how “the karang guni man” had helped her to move the items in the boxes. Mr Karl was also heard saying to Mrs Liew that she “cannot get the karang guni man” to the house as it is “still her things”.
This particular point was also noted by Justice Chan in his High Court judgement in September 2020.
“As captured in the Video, Mdm Ng’s initial reaction was not to salvage the items but to engage the help of the karang guni man to remove the items,” Justice Chan remarked.
He added that if the clothing items were stolen from Mr Karl, it would be expected for Mr Karl “to have claimed that they were his clothes” instead of stating that the items could not be moved because they were indeed Ms Parti’s items.
There was also the testimony of Mr Khor Tiong Beng, one of Mr Liew’s two chauffeurs, who said in his cross-examination that Mr Liew had enquired about certain missing items such as the power bank and a pair of running shoes, but had never said anything about suspecting Ms Parti of stealing the items.
The evidence is clear on this.
Several netizens on CNA’s Facebook page said that they based their assumption of Parti’s guilt on the ministerial statement by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam back in November 2020.
Mr Shanmugan had said in his statement: “AGC [Attorney General’s Chambers] also took the view that there was a clear public interest in prosecuting Ms Liyani. Two reasons – One, it appeared that Ms Liyani had stolen many items, including some seemingly expensive items. Two, it appeared that she had been stealing for years, and it was not impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decisions.”
It is apparent that the evidence brought to light during the appeal process and the High Court’s eventual decision to acquit Parti runs contrary to the narrative that of Mr Shanmugan back in November.
Yet, some people still cling to Mr Shanmugan’s statement in making their judgements and passing opinion despite the High Court ruling and findings.