Case shows everyone is equal before the law here: Shanmugam
Criminal justice system works and it is critical to protect its integrity, he says.
A foreign domestic worker was charged and found guilty of theft in Singapore and the complainant was a wealthy, powerful person, but the maid was later acquitted by the High Court on appeal.
This shows that everyone is equal before the law and it does not matter who the person is, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam as he gave a detailed account of the series of events in Ms Parti Liyani's case, which sparked debate about the fairness of the justice system.
Speaking in Parliament yesterday, he said the case illustrates how the rule of law functions in Singapore.
"We may agree or disagree with the State Court's or High Court's decisions and conclusions. But that is a different matter," he added. "This case shows that the criminal justice system as a whole works."
He was making a ministerial statement on the case involving Ms Parti, whom the High Court on Sept 4 acquitted of theft from then Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family. The case sparked an uproar, with MPs and others raising questions about the criminal justice system.
Mr Shanmugam said there is a sense in many societies that the elite have bent the rules to their advantage and were "buying off, suborning those in government".
"People are fed up with unfair structures. Equal opportunities are drying up," he added.
However, this is not the case in Singapore, he said, adding that it is all the more critical to protect the integrity of the system that has been built up over the years.
"We must jealously guard the availability of equal opportunities. We must ensure that everyone has a fair shake. We must be alert, guard against the wealthy and the powerful taking unfair advantages," he said. "If Liew Mun Leong did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit our sense of fairness, equality, justice. A dent to Project Singapore itself because Singapore is built on these ideals."
The country has always guarded against the corrosion of its justice system, but this does not mean that there will be no abuse of power or corruption, said the minister. When it happens, there must be swift, decisive actions to punish those responsible and stamp out such behaviour, and successive governments have been very clear about this position, he added.
He was one of the most senior members of first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet, yet when corruption allegations surfaced, Mr Lee directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to investigate, said Mr Shanmugam.
"Mr Lee said at that time: 'There is no way a minister can avoid investigations, and a trial if there is evidence to support one.'"
These values of Singapore's founding generation of leaders have been scrupulously stressed and adhered to by the two succeeding prime ministers, and are like "religious commandments", he added.
"There cannot be any compromise."
Mr Shanmugam noted that under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, many high-ranking officials who have erred have had action taken against them.
He cited several examples:
Former Singapore Civil Defence Force commissioner Peter Lim was jailed for six months in 2012 and dismissed from the public service for corruption.
Former CPIB assistant director Edwin Yeo was jailed for 10 years for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and forgery.
Former National Kidney Foundation chief executive T. T. Durai was jailed for three months for corruption.
Former Singapore Environment Council executive director Howard Shaw was jailed for 12 weeks for paid sex with a minor.
Said the minister: "The message is: It doesn't matter who you are. If you do wrong, action will be taken."
UPHOLD SINGAPORE'S IDEALS
We must jealously guard the availability of equal opportunities. We must ensure that everyone has a fair shake. We must be alert, guard against the wealthy and the powerful taking unfair advantages.
If Liew Mun Leong did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit our sense of fairness, equality, justice. A dent to Project Singapore itself because Singapore is built on these ideals.
HOME AFFAIRS AND LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM
Parti Liyani's investigation and prosecution not influenced by anyone: Shanmugam
LAW and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam has categorically said that there was no attempt by anyone to influence the prosecution of the Indonesian maid formerly hired by then-Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Shanmugam chronicled the investigation of Parti Liyani's alleged theft from the Liews and the prosecution of the criminal case.
He also rubbished allegations that Mr Liew or anyone has wielded power over police investigation and the prosecution's conduct of the trial.
It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly, noted Mr Shanmugam, following further investigations made after Ms Parti's conviction was overturned and her 26- month jail term was set aside in September on appeal.
He also pointed out that her case was heard in open court in accordance with the rules. Although the complainant is a wealthy, powerful person, all are equal before the law. It does not matter who the parties are. In fact, it illustrates how the rule of law functions in Singapore.
Ms Parti was acquitted after she appealed to the High Court. Justice Chan Seng Onn pointed to a plausibility that Mr Liew and his son Karl could have an "improper motive" to frame her, to prevent her from complaining against them for illegally deploying her to clean Mr Karl Liew's office and home.
His comments caused an uproar and questions were raised on whether there was a law for the rich, socially connected and another for the rest of the society.
However, Mr Shanmugam emphasised that post-judgement investigations showed there was no pressure or influence exerted by Mr Liew or someone on his behalf on the police or the deputy public prosecutors.
Mr Liew resigned from CAG and his positions at other organisations, following the public outcry.
The Liews employed Ms Parti in March 2007, but in 2015 they started to suspect that she had been stealing from them as the family's possessions kept going missing. These included Mr Liew's jogging shoes and a number of his Longchamp bags as well as Mr Karl Liew's belongings.
They dismissed the Indonesian on Oct 28, 2016 and gave her two hours to pack her belongings. Ms Parti was furious and threatened that she would complain to the Ministry of Manpower while stuffing three big boxes with things.
Two days later, while Ms Parti was back in Indonesia, Mr Liew made a police report after the family allegedly found their belongings in the boxes, which Mr Karl Liew had agreed to pay to ship to her.
It was five weeks later that the police attended to the scene, and it was the day after Miss Parti returned to Singapore. When she was arrested, some of the items found on her were said to have been stolen from the Liews.
The responses that she gave to the authorities - including she had found some of the items such as branded bags and sunglasses in the trash - did not seem credible to the prosecutors.
She also gave contradictory accounts on several other items such as first claiming the watches in question were gifts from a friend but changed her tune later to say she had found them in the trash. Further, she admitted to taking some of Mr Karl Liew's clothing without his permission.
The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) decided to charge her because there was sufficient evidence to show that she had likely committed the theft. It appeared to the AGC that she had stolen many items including some seemingly expensive ones, and that she had been stealing for years, prompting the prosecution to charge her in the interest of the public.
"They (AGC and the police) certainly did not act at the behest of the Liew family. And this is how our system is supposed to work," said Mr Shanmugam.
The High Court has inferred that the Liews might have wanted to terminate Ms Parti's employment as a pre-emptive move, but the maid agent confirmed in post-appeal investigations that the Indonesian on the day she was sacked had wanted to complain about the short notice given for her dismissal.
Further investigations also showed the Liews did not suddenly decide to fire Ms Parti but had told the maid agent about the plan for months. This was several years after her illegal deployment had started.
The agent had offered to assist Ms Parti to make a labour complaint, but she left Singapore without accepting the assistance. She filed one much later, after she was charged.
Besides the alleged motive, what caused the High Court to disbelieve the Liews' evidence was Mr Karl Liew's testimony in particular. Justice Chan found the witness had lied about some items that Ms Parti was accused of stealing, this has not only tainted his credibility but also affected her conviction.
"Looking at the evidence, the impression one gets is that there seems to have been a cavalier attitude in the way some items were identified as belonging to the Liews, and in the way values were ascribed to some items," noted Mr Shanmugam.
The minister conceded that there was a lapse in taking custody of the exhibits, and this was in breach of both a legal requirement and police protocol. Nonetheless, it has not affected those that were found on Ms Parti when she was arrested. "However, there can be no excuse for this lapse," conceded Mr Shanmugam.
The police should have responded to a crime scene promptly. The investigating officer (IO) was busy with other court cases, arrest operations and personal matters at that time. He and other officers involved in this case are being investigated, and will be disciplined if found to be in breach.
Although the judge has made observations about the Deputy Public Prosecutors' (DPPs) conduct of the trial, Mr Shanmugam will not comment on this aspect because it is now the subject of a disciplinary inquiry, following Ms Parti's complaint.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.