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The Curious Case of Josephine Teo’s Husband’s Resignation from Surbana Two Days Before Liew’s Maid Was Acquitted

In all the public anger and outrage that has surfaced since Justice Chan’s scathing comments about on Mr Liew, no one seems to have picked up on the curious fact that Josephine Teo’s husband resigned from his position as Surbana Jurong’s International Chief Executive Officer just a few days before the judgement on Ms Liyani’s appeal came out. According to the company he resigned “to pursue other interests” on the 2 September 2020 and the judgement was delivered on 4 September 2020

Josephine Teo is of course the Minister of Manpower (MOM) while her husband Teo Eng Cheong would have reported to the Surbana Board which is headed by Liew Mun Leong. Remember that Justice Chan found that “the Defence has sufficiently demonstrated an underlying factual basis in support of its allegation of an improper motive on the part of Karl and Mr Liew” in making a police report. The motive was to prevent Ms Liyani from “lodging a complaint to MOM about her illegal deployment in breach of Condition 3 in Pt II of the Fourth Schedule to the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012 (Cap 91A, Rg 4, 2009 RevEd). Condition 3 provides that a foreign domestic worker should perform only household and domestic duties at the residential address stated in the work permit or any other residential address approved in writing by the Controller.

Ms Liyani did go ahead and make a complaint to MOM but MOM did not treat it very seriously. To quote from their statement issued on 6 September:

1     In October 2017, Ms Parti Liyani made a report of illegal deployment by her employer’s spouse Mrs Liew, to her son Mr Karl Liew’s residence between September and October 2016, and to his office around 2012 and 2013.

2     The Ministry investigated her complaint and found that Mrs Liew deployed her to Mr Karl Liew’s house and office on different occasions. At the conclusion of the investigation in May 2018, the Ministry issued a caution to Mrs Liew and an advisory to Mr Karl Liew. The issuing of a caution, on these facts, is consistent with the approach taken in other similar cases.

Josephine Teo became Second Manpower Minister (the name should really be less sexist!) in May 2017 and then was promoted to Minister on 1 May 2018. So she could theoretically have been in a position to make the decision not to prosecute Liew Mun Wong and his son. It is also strange that as Mr Liew was her employer and it was his legal responsibility to make sure that Ms Liyani was not illegally deployed that MOM issued an advisory to his wife. Yet in the advice they give to employers of FDWs MOM make clear that it is the employer’s responsibility even if the maid is given illegal orders by someone else in the household. And why was MOM so lenient when they should have taken a much tougher line given Mr Liew’s enormous wealth and the high standing in society that he has been given by the PAP Government? We are not talking about a median-income HDB owner here but about someone who owned not one but two very expensive landed properties in Chancery Lane (presumably if his son owned the property he lived in it would have been seized to pay his bankruptcy debt).

Of course Mr Teo resigned before the judgement so it cannot be proved that he knew what was about to happen. But his wife was theoretically in a position to influence the decision as to whether to prosecute Liew Mun Leong while Mr Teo’s bonus and salary were decided by the Surbana Jurong Board which was headed by Mr Liew. While without further investigation there may not be any smoking gun it is worth bearing in mind what Article 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act says:

Presumption of corruption in certain cases
8.  Where in any proceedings against a person for an offence under section 5 or 6, it is proved that any gratification has been paid or given to or received by a person in the employment of the Government or any department thereof or of a public body by or from a person or agent of a person who has or seeks to have any dealing with the Government or any department thereof or any public body, that gratification shall be deemed to have been paid or given and received corruptly as an inducement or reward as hereinbefore mentioned unless the contrary is proved.


I am sure that there is no connection between Mr Liew’s and his family’s lenient treatment by MOM and the salary and bonuses paid to Josephine Teo’s husband since 2018 at Surbana. However to dispel any suspicion of impropriety Surbana should provide figures to show how much Mr Teo was paid from the date Ms Liyani made her complaint to MOM. In addition Josephine Teo should show that she recused herself from involvement in the Liew case and spoke to no one under her dealing with it at any time. Even if there is shown to be no connection, suspicions will linger that the PAP elite, their spouses and hangers-on believe that they are above the law.

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