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Former police officer on trial for alleged abuse and cover-up of 2016 maid’s tragic death

Readers may recall the terrifying case of Piang Ngaih Don, a Myanmar FDW who was abused by her employer for nearly 10 months until her death.

During this period, Piang was physically assaulted almost daily, starved of food and rest, and forced to shower and relieve herself with the toilet door open.

In the last 12 days of her life, she was also tied to the window grille at night and made to sleep on the floor.

Ms Piang weighed only 24kg when she passed away on 26 July 2016. Autopsy results revealed that she sustained 31 recent scars and 47 external injuries.

Her employer,  Gaiyathiri Murugayan admitted to 28 charges including culpable homicide, voluntarily causing grievous hurt by starvation, and wrongful restraint against then-24-year-old Ms Piang, and she was sentenced to 30 years in jail in Jun 2021.

Shocking footage of Ms Piang’s ordeal — which was played in court at trial — was captured by CCTVs installed around the flat by Gaiyathiri and her policeman husband, Kevin Chelvam to monitor the domestic worker and their two children.

The former staff sergeant, Chelvam, has been suspended from his duties following his alleged involvement in the abuse and cover-up of the offences.

According to CNA, Chelvam went on trial on Thursday (Jul 20) for his alleged role in the abuse and cover-up of the offences.

The 44-year-old is accused of abetting his wife in starving the maid, who was usually given only slices of bread soaked in water at irregular intervals.

Additionally, he is contesting charges of physically hurting the maid by lifting her off the ground by her hair, removing evidence, and lying to the police.

Chelvam is being defended by Mr. Pratap Kishan and is currently out on bail of S$15,000.

The prosecution’s case claims that he was the victim’s employer and was “fully aware of the atrocities that occurred under his roof”.

Deputy Public Prosecutors, Stephanie Koh and Sean Teh, assert that Chelvam was “complicit” in the offences due to “his conscious indifference to the deceased’s plight, which he allowed to continue unabated until her death”.

Case background reveals chilling details of abuse

Ms Piang began working for Chelvam’s family on 28 May 2015. Chelvam is Ms Piang’s first, last, and only employer in Singapore.

Chelvam lived with his wife and their two young children in a three-bedroom flat in Bishan, with two additional tenants occupying one of the bedrooms. Chelvam’s mother-in-law, Prema S Naraynasamy, also contributed by frequently staying over to assist with cooking and childcare.

Upon hiring Piang, he committed to provide her with at least three adequate meals a day and other agreed-upon terms.

Ms Piang’s responsibilities included household chores and caring for the children, primarily supervised by Chelvam’s wife, Gaiyathiri Murugayan.

Nevertheless, Chelvam interacted with Piang whenever he was home and maintained communication with his wife via WhatsApp throughout the day, discussing household matters and monitoring the home through the six closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in the flat.

Prosecutors revealed that Chelvam noticed a significant decline in Piang’s weight. She weighed 39kg when she started working for the family but tragically reduced to a mere 24kg at the time of her death, 14 months later.

WhatsApp messages between Chelvam and his wife will be used as evidence

WhatsApp messages between Chelvam and his wife will be used as evidence to show that he endorsed the use of food deprivation as a form of punishment.

Prosecutors plan to call a forensic pathologist to testify that Piang was in a severe nutritional state at the time of her death, with an emaciated body and muscles “wasted and somewhat pale and translucent”.

The prosecution’s case indicates that continued starvation would have adversely affected Piang’s consciousness, mobility, and eventually led to multi-organ failure, ultimately causing her death.

Shockingly, one of the messages allegedly shows Chelvam threatening to starve Piang if she failed to arrange the children’s photos properly: ” (The victim) never put the children photo at the hall properly again … I told her that if one more time she do the same no food for her the whole day…”

The accused allegedly attempted to thwart investigations

After the victim’s death, Chelvam allegedly made attempts to obstruct the investigation by interfering with crucial evidence.

The prosecution, in their opening statement, charged him with disconnecting the CCTV recorder to prevent the police from obtaining vital footage and lying about its whereabouts.

According to the prosecution, Chelvam was aware that his wife and mother-in-law regularly abused the victim, resulting in her deteriorating physical condition.

Despite this knowledge, the former police officer took no action to stop the abuse or seek help for the victim.

One of the accusations against Chelvam involves him lying to the police, claiming that the CCTV recorder had been removed six months prior due to a tenant’s request.

However, while he was present at the house with the police on the day the victim’s death was discovered, Chelvam allegedly pretended to search for the recorder but later stated that he couldn’t find it.

CCTV footage reveals the accused grabbing the victim by her hair and lifting her off the ground

In addition to his role in covering up the abuse, Chelvam is also accused of directly assaulting the victim on a specific occasion in early August 2016.

CCTV footage reportedly captured him grabbing the victim by her hair and lifting her off the ground from a sitting position. He purportedly admitted to being irritated with her for falling asleep while eating.

Earlier media reports revealed that in June of this year, Prema S Naraynasamy, Chelvam’s 64-year-old mother-in-law, who is already serving a 14-year jail term for her involvement in abusing Ms Piang to death, received an additional three-year imprisonment sentence.

This new sentence was imposed for her act of instructing her son-in-law to remove a closed-circuit television recorder, which contained crucial evidence of the crimes committed against the victim, Ms. Piang.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on 24 Feb 2021 that Chelvam had employed four other migrant domestic workers before hiring Ms Piang, but had not received any complaints or “adverse feedback” from the workers about Chelvam or his family.

Reports on Ms Piang’s case shocked the entire country, with netizens pointing out that MOM not receiving any complaints or adverse feedback from the four workers does not indicate that they were treated well by the employer, but rather because they had to “suffer in silence”.

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