Shanmugam Abuses Parliamentary Privilege to Retry and Convict Parti Liyani
Despite naive hopes expressed by many Singaporeans that the flaws exposed by the Parti Liyani case should lead to reform of the criminal justice system, Shanmugam not only whitewashed the whole system but also undermined the independence of the judiciary. He cast doubt on the High Court’s decision to overturn Parti Liyani’s appeal and smeared her as someone who had stolen from her employers but had been lucky to get away with it. Because he said it in Parliament Ms Liyani is not able to sue him for defamation because Parliamentary speech is rightly privileged. He also exonerated Liew Mun Leong and the DPP.
Here is what the State Times said were the 7 main takeaways with my comments beneath:
1. The decision of the Liews to terminate Ms Parti Liyani’s employment was made some time ago
In his judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn described the termination as “sudden” and noted there was reason to believe that it was a “pre-emptive first step” by the Liews to ensure that Ms Parti could not complain to MOM.to MOM.
“However Shanmugam said further investigations have shown that the Liews had told their maid agency by end-2015 that they wanted a new helper as they had suspected Ms Parti of stealing”
This proves nothing and Shanmugam provides no evidence. If the Liews suspected Ms Liyani of stealing in 2015 why did they not get rid of her then and make a police report? Why wait until nearly a year later? It is more likely that they were unhappy with her previously expressed unwillingness to be deployed illegally outside her place of employment and her refusal to clean the toilet at Karl’s home. In fact Justice Chan quotes Parti as saying “I know why. You angry because I refused to clean up your toilet.” when Karl Liew told her she was sacked.
The question arises as to why Shanmugam and the Law Ministry are working so hard pro bono to exculpate Mr Liew from any suggestion that he had filed a police report to prevent Ms Liyani’s return to Singapore and ensure that she could not report him to Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Will he be performing any more pro bono services for other accused persons?
2. Police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had handled the case as a routine theft case
Mr Shanmugam reiterated that there was no undue influence on the police or the AGC by Mr Liew, or by anyone acting on the family’s behalf.
However in his judgement Justice Chan says that a Warrant of Arrest was issued against Parti after a police report was made on 30 October 2016 and that she was arrested when she returned to Singapore on 2 December 2016 even though the Investigating Officer did not bother to visit the scene of the offence until 3 December.
Why was a Warrant of Arrest issued and why was Parti arrested when the police had not even bothered to check if a crime had been committed and that there was sufficient evidence to suspect her? Is that usual? My experience of the Singapore police from when my family received death threats is that they are reluctant to even question a suspect unless there is substantial evidence. This seems like special treatment and that the police were not unduly worried by due process niceties like ensuring there was no opportunity to tamper with the evidence.
3. The AGC had reason to charge Ms Parti for the crime based on the evidence before them
Police investigators and prosecutors had assessed that Ms Parti was untruthful, in initial investigations, and there was sufficient evidence to charge Ms Parti for theft, said Mr Shanmugam.
Given the fact that the police did not visit the scene of the crime immediately and that Ms Liyani left the alleged stolen items in the company of the Liews I fail to see how this met the evidentiary standard for prosecution since it would have been possible for the Liews to tamper with the evidence. The police seem to have been extraordinarily relaxed, even telling the Liews that they could use the allegedly stolen items.
Ms Liyani was also denied the assistance of an interpreter, let alone counsel, when questioned by the police and when Shanmugam says she admitted taking some of the items, though there is no reason to doubt that these items had been thrown away or discarded by the Liews. Also why were the police charging her with the theft of the items found on her when she was arrested at the airport when there was no question of these coming from the Liew household and they had not been reported stolen? They did this presumably to put pressure on her to plead guilty and save them the trouble of having to prosecute her.
Ms Liyani’s experience shows the importance of reforming the criminal justice system by providing defendants with access to lawyers as soon as they are arrested and of the state paying for this if the accused is unable to afford a lawyer.
4. Mr Karl Liew’s “highly unsatisfactory” evidence and conduct during trial
Mr Shanmugam said there appears to have been a “cavalier attitude” on the part of the Liews in the way that some items were identified as belonging to them and in the way values were ascribed to some items. Mr Karl Liew, in particular, was singled out as many aspects of his evidence and conduct in court had “raised scepticism”, said Mr Shanmugam.
Shanmugam fails to answer the question why the trial judge accepted Karl’s evidence given that he had previously been found liable for “deceit” when he was ordered to pay $6.5 million to recompense an investor whose investments he had guaranteed.
Shanmugam has also handed a “get out of jail free” card to Liew Mun Leong (LMW) who gets off scot-free despite being the person who filed the police report and was Ms Liyani’s employer. He should have been prosecuted by MOM over illegal deployment of his maid. Shanmugam has not explained why MOM only issued a caution against his wife and an advisory to Karl when LMW was the employer and why they have decided today to take no further action after reviewing the case, even though Josephine Teo’s husband inexplicably left the board of Surbana Jurong (where LMW was Chair) a few days after the High Court judgement.
One cannot escape the feeling that Karl is taking the fall for his father who would have had the main motive for having Ms Liyani convicted in case her evidence against him affected his multi-million
5. Attorney-General (AG) Lucien Wong recused himself from the case because his history of differences with Mr Liew could affect the perception of fairness
AG Lucien Wong had resigned from the Board of Directors of CapitaLand, because he had a “difference of viewpoints” with Mr Liew, who was then president and chief executive, on some issues, Mr Shanmugam revealed in parliament.
Lucien Wong (LW) only recused himself after the High Court judgement. Even if he was not involved in the decision to prosecute Ms Liyani the fact that he was AG when the decision was made and that he was known to have been on the board of CapitaLand with LMW could have influenced the DPPs involved who would likely have not been aware that LW resigned because of “differences of opinion” with LMW, even if this is true.
I have written elsewhere about the need for reform of the AG’s office to separate the prosecutorial function from the AG’s role as the Government’s adviser.
6.The District Judge had convicted Ms Parti after she had found “serious inconsistencies” in Ms Parti’s evidence, among others
Justice Chan has reversed Ms Liyani’s conviction so why is Shanmugam trying to cast doubt on the validity of that reversal and defame her by suggesting she was a liar? He brings up items that the Justice Chan had already considered, such as two iPhone 4s and a marked Prada bag. LMW’s net worth is probably over $100 million so it is quite believable that these items were discarded or thrown away but retrieved by Ms Liyani. Justice Chan also found that the Liews had deliberately inflated the value of many of the items they said Ms Liyani had stolen.
7. The High Court had acquitted Ms Parti primarily based on the finding that there was reasonable doubt of improper motive, and a break in the chain of custody for allegedly stolen items
Given the time lag between the police report and when the police visited the scene, this was a case that failed the most basic evidential burden and should never have been brought.
Despite his abuse of Parliamentary privilege to smear someone whom he knows cannot fight back, Shanmugam has failed to dispel suspicions that Singapore’s justice system is rigged in favour of those at the top and the individuals who are connected to them. Whether you are a vulnerable person, like Ms Liyani, a political opponent like JBJ or the editor of a mildly critical blog like TOC, it seems that the AG is only too ready to prosecute those deemed threats and protect the privileged access of our rulers and their cronies to positions of obscene profit from state resources.