On Wednesday, Minister for Home Affairs and Law, K Shanmugam, grilled Non-constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai via a ministerial statement, asking Mr Leong to remove a Facebook post and apologize to the Minister.
In the hour-long exchange, Mr Shanmugam repeatedly asked Mr Leong whether he agreed that the Parti Liyani case was relevant to the disclosure of police investigations against Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean in a recent written parliamentary reply to a People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament.
For those unaware, the Parti Liyani case is about a former Indonesian domestic worker who had been wrongfully accused of theft by a wealthy family linked to Temasek Holdings and acquitted of the charges against her at the High Court. If not for the acquittal, Ms Parti would have had to serve 26 months in prison.
The news of Ms Parti got the nation riled up over the injustice faced by the Indonesian, who had to spend four years in Singapore facing the charges against her.
This anger and public interest resulted in questions filed by MPs in the Singapore Parliament, where Mr Shanmugam gave a ministerial statement, “Review of the Case of Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor 2020 SGHC 187“, on 4 November 2020 to address the matter.
In his speech, the Minister referred to Karl Liew, who gave testimonies of the alleged stolen items, which the High Court judge disbelieved and the district court judge relied on for the conviction of Ms Parti.
Mr Shanmugam said, “There are two issues here: whether Karl’s evidence can be relied upon to convict Ms Liyani; and two, whether Karl was being dishonest.”
He went on to state that “AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) has decided that hereafter, if any judgment or decision issued in the course of any legal proceedings contains findings that there may have been perjury or other serious offences, AGC will seriously consider whether there should be further investigations, proceedings, in respect of those indicated offences.”
The Minister then revealed that Karl had been investigated for whether he had committed any criminal offences, including perjury.
“Statements have been taken from Karl on the following points: whether the items highlighted by the High Court had been in his possession; his explanations for his inconsistencies during trial regarding these items; the investigations have been completed. A statement will be announced later this evening based on these investigations.”
Now, compare this with Mr Teo’s disclosure of the investigation on 2 March 2023, which was made in response to a question that asked: “whether an e-book, “The Battle Over Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will”, accurately represents the circumstances surrounding the signing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will, as found by the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges in disciplinary proceedings against Mrs Lee Suet Fern, where she was found guilty of professional misconduct.”
The question itself was titled, “Accuracy of E-book’s Representation of the Signing of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will.”
Mr Teo criticized the author of the e-book, disagreeing with the observations of the e-book, stating that it “totally ignores the facts and findings which had been established, after an objective and thorough examination of the case, by the Court of Three Judges (C3J) in November 2020 and a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) in February 2020.”
All was fine except for when he blurted out that the two were under ongoing police investigation for suspected perjury, which was widely reported by the media and the basis of parliamentary questions filed this month about police procedure when it comes to the disclosure of individuals being investigated.
Mr Leong had explicitly asked to explain the difference in approach by the Government on Mr and Mrs Lee compared to the six former Keppel executives whom the Government has refused to name.
Relevance of disclosure to questions
The difference between the disclosure of the investigations against Karl and the Lees may come down to the point of relevance that Mr Shanmugam tries to suggest that there is.
Mr Shanmugam noted the High Court’s observation of Karl’s dishonest testimony and that he has been investigated for false allegations against Ms Parti. At the same time, Mr Teo disclosed that the Lees were being investigated as he voiced disagreement with the observations of the e-book.
In his statement on Monday, Mr Shanmugam justified Mr Teo’s disclosure by saying:
The question required discussing the accuracy of those public statements in the context of the judgments of the disciplinary tribunal and the court of three judges, and in required dealing with the honesty or otherwise of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern that there were ongoing police investigations arising from the findings of the tribunal and the court of three judges was, in that context, relevant and necessary to be disclosed to give an accurate and full answer.
However, the citation of the courts’ findings would surely have been sufficient for the Senior Minister to have made his point about why the e-book was inaccurate.
Why did Mr Teo need to note that the Lees were being investigated by the police since the courts had already made their findings? It is a pity no one asked Mr Shanmugam or Mr Teo to explain this.
And why did MPs keep quiet about the disclosure of Karl and then make noise about the Lees as Mr Shanmugam harped in his exchange with Mr Leong?
As Mr Leong noted, before the masses is a recent case of the six former Keppel executives, where the Government insisted that the six could not be named.
Ms Indranee Rajah, who is Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, explained that the six former senior management staff members of KOM were not prosecuted over the multi-million dollar bribery case due to insufficient evidence to establish their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ms Indranee replied to Workers’ Party MP Mr Gerald Giam, who asked why the six could not be named:
As a matter of policy, CPIB does not disclose the names of individuals, unless they are charged in court. This policy is not unique to the CPIB; law enforcement agencies in the US, UK and New Zealand have a similar approach. The principle underlying this policy is to avoid prejudicing that individual’s right to due process and also, avoid any presumption of guilt in the absence of any formal findings.
If Members feel that hereafter this practice should be changed and that law enforcement agencies should name all individuals who were investigated, even if in the end no charges are brought, then please say so. That would be a major change of policy.
But please note, if Members want to change, then it cannot be only for this case. It must be for all future cases. That is something to think carefully about. Members will recall that, about two years ago, a question was in fact raised in this House, asking about the protections available for those whose reputations are affected by media coverage of ongoing trials of certain offences and how such reports are regulated.
What was the disclosure really meant for?
If we put everything together instead of comparing the issues one at a time, which muddies the water, we can note that:
- The question from the PAP MP did not ask what the Government intends to do with the Lees, in light of the court’s findings compared to Ms Parti’s case, but rather on the observations of the e-book versus the courts’ findings.
- The Lees have not been charged in court, nor have they revealed it to the public themselves.
- There was no public interest in the Lees as compared to the names of the six former Keppel executives.
- The Lees did not illegally leave the country, nor was a warrant issued against them, as no official order was made to compel them to assist in investigations.
- Like the six former Keppel executives, Mr and Mrs Lee have not been found guilty. The disclosure unduly prejudices them.
Furthermore, as TOC previously asked, how did Mr Teo, with his portfolio that has nothing to do with law enforcement, get information on the ongoing investigations against Mr and Mrs Lee?
This has not been addressed by the Minister of Home Affairs and Law in any of his speeches, and it is important for us to establish the actual reasons why the PAP MP filed the parliamentary question six months after the e-book had been published and why Mr Teo saw fit to release information he ought not to be privy to.