Singapore — Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam delivered a Ministerial Statement on the review of the case of Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor (2020), in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 4).
Here are four key excerpts from the statement:
1. The Conduct Of The Liews
Noting that serious questions had been raised about how one or more of the Liews had conducted themselves (Part 1, paragraphs 170–172), Mr Shanmugam said:
“Moving to the Liews, there are many aspects of Karl’s conduct and evidence, some of which I have dealt with, which are highly unsatisfactory, which raise scepticism based on what he said at the trial. He appeared not to be a credible witness. Filing a police report, making claims on items, needs to be taken seriously. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive account, but it must be done with careful consideration. Looking at the evidence, the impression one gets is that there seems to have been a cavalier attitude on the part of the Liews, in the way some items were identified as belonging to them, and in the way values were ascribed to some items.
“It is natural to expect that you will know and take your duties seriously when you file a police report. Be careful in what you say and do, commensurate with your knowledge and experience. When you claim an item, you make sure it is yours. When you ascribe a value, make sure you have a basis.
“Questions do arise about how one or more of the Liews have conducted themselves, on these and other aspects.”
The minister also noted inconsistencies in Karl Liew’s conduct and evidence during the trial, and said that he was under investigation as to whether he had committed any criminal offences (Part 1, paragraphs 144–158):
“Third, the Liews’ credibility. The High Court spoke about this. The High Court had doubts about the Liews’ credibility. In particular, it highlighted Karl’s evidence. It noted the following points about Karl’s evidence.
“One, Karl did not clearly identify some pieces of clothing in the 2nd Charge, such as a black dress, as having been in his possession.
“Karl also had difficulties with some other items of clothing like a cream polo T-shirt, and a red blouse. High Court found Karl’s claim that he wore women’s T-shirts suspect. I am using the High Court’s words.
“Karl testified that a Gucci wallet and a Braun Buffel wallet belonged to him, and were gifts from his family. However, none of his family members could recall gifting him those specific items. The High Court disbelieved his evidence, and thought he was being untruthful.
“The High Court disbelieved that a Helix watch was a gift from Liew Mun Leong (LML) — that was Karl’s evidence. LML has denied having owned such an item.
“Karl agreed that a pink knife that he had earlier said he had purchased before 2002, was likely manufactured after that date. The High Court said this affected Karl’s credibility and his claim to ownership.
“The High Court disbelieved Karl’s evidence that he had bought a Habitat bedsheet in the UK. The High Court said he had “fabricated his testimony”. The bedsheet had the same pattern as a quilt cover which had an “Ikea” label. Karl’s wife, Heather, also testified that she had never seen the bedsheet in her room or on her bed.
“A Gerald Genta watch – Karl said initially the value was S$25,000. Defence expert put the then current value at S$500, given its state — a chronograph pusher was missing, date malfunctioned, and the strap needed replacing.
“There are two issues here: Whether Karl’s evidence can be relied upon to convict Ms Liyani; and, two, whether Karl was being dishonest.
“The High Court chose to give little weight to what he said and said he was unreliable.
“Given that Ms Liyani’s liberty was at stake, I think many lawyers will understand, that the whole of Karl’s evidence was disregarded, as the High Court did.
“The second point -– Was Karl being dishonest? The High Court thought so.
“Arising from this case, AGC 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, then AGC will seriously consider whether there should be further investigations, proceedings, in respect of those indicated offences.
“Karl has been investigated as to whether he 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 at trial regarding these items. The investigations have been completed. A statement will be announced later this evening, based on the investigations.”
2. Ms Parti Liyani’s Inconsistencies
The minister pointed out inconsistencies in many of Ms Liyani’s statements and how the police and AGC thought she was untruthful and that was why she was charged (Part 1, paragraphs 18–19):
“On Dec 2, 2016, at about 9 pm, Ms Liyani returned to Singapore. She was arrested at the airport based on the PG. Ms Liyani said in her statement to the police that she came back to visit a friend and go sight-seeing thereafter, and she planned to return to Indonesia before going to Hong Kong to work. Later in court, she said that she in fact returned to Singapore to look for her agent and seek employment.
“When she was arrested, some items were found on her. These are listed at Annex 1, Table A to my statement, which will be distributed later. There’s only one annex before members, that is a different annex. But the others are outside. In the interest of time, we won’t distribute each annex as I go through. The Liews said these were also stolen items. These items were seized and subsequently included in the charges against her.”
Ministerial Statement (Part 1, paragraphs 166–169):
“There are various aspects of Ms Liyani’s evidence which prima facie raise scepticism. There were inconsistencies in many of her answers. Answers changed from one statement to another, and from her statements to her evidence in court. Several aspects of her evidence in court also raised questions. Items which were said to be found in the trash, for example. I will leave members to reach their own views.
“The police and AGC thought she was untruthful, based on the police investigations. They assessed that she did steal, that is why she was charged.
“I am giving you this summary to let you know how the police and AGC assessed the matter. Of course, when they did so, they did not have the benefit of her evidence in court.
“The State Courts found her to be quite untruthful. The High Court gave her the benefit of doubt because it was troubled by Karl’s improbable, unreliable statements; some other inconsistencies in the Liews’ testimonies; and their conduct; and for other reasons, relating to the reliability of Ms Liyani’s statements. If there were issues with the statement-taking, then that affects the question of whether there were in fact inconsistencies in her statements.”
3. Police And The AGC’s Reasons For Proceeding
The minister explained that the case had been handled as a routine theft case by the police and AGC, noting the reasons that Ms Liyani had been charged (Part 1, paragraphs 37–47):
“From the police and AGC’s perspective, this was handled as a routine theft case. There was no attempt by anyone to influence them. A police report was filed, and the matter was dealt with as such reports are usually dealt with.
“I will come back to this.
“AGC decided to charge Ms Liyani for two main reasons. There was sufficient evidence which showed that theft offences were likely to have been committed, and second, it was in the public interest to prosecute. Let me explain this.
“The evidence that was before AGC at the time was as follows. The Liews had identified all the items in the charges as items belonging to them and gave some detail.
“In contrast, based on what AGC saw, Ms Liyani gave answers which raised many questions. I will highlight some of these. Ms Liyani claimed that she had found some jewellery in May’s trash. May stated that she would never throw jewellery away. She would give unwanted jewellery to the Salvation Army, or friends. AGC’s assessment was that the evidence of May was more believable. Ms Liyani also claimed that she had found items such as a Prada bag, two Apple iPhones, and a pair of Gucci sunglasses in the trash. AGC did not find this to be credible. The list of items that Ms Liyani said she found in the trash (and their photographs) are at Annex 3.
“Ms Liyani also expressly admitted to taking some items, 10 to 15 items of clothing. Let me explain this. In her first statement dated Dec 3, 2016, Ms Liyani was asked how she came into possession of the male clothing. She said the clothing belonged to her employer. She said she took the clothing because the clothes were small. She assumed her employer’s son Karl would not want the clothes. She did not ask Karl whether she could take the clothes. She admitted to taking the pieces of male clothing in early 2015.
“In her second statement dated Dec 4, 2016, Ms Liyani said: “I only took about 10 to 15 men’s clothing belonging to my employer’s husband… I admit that I took it without informing my employer or her husband”; and she also said, “I only admit to taking the 10 to 15 men’s clothing belonging to my employer’s husband without consent”, and “I did not steal any other items”.
“Her statement that she did not steal any other items is also very significant. Prima facie, on the statements, this would appear to be theft. AGC assessed the case based on this and other material. I should add that under cross-examination in court, Ms Liyani said she was only given permission to take these items if Karl did not want them, but she did not ask Karl, meaning she just took the items.
“Ms Liyani also gave contradictory accounts to the police on several other items. These inconsistencies are set out in Annex 4. I will highlight two instances of inconsistencies as illustrations. First, ‘Vacheron Constantin’ and ‘Swatch’ watches. In her statement dated Dec 4, 2016, Ms Liyani said these watches were gifts from a friend. However, in a later statement dated May 29, 2017, she said she had found these watches in May’s trash. Next, a pair of ‘Gucci’ sunglasses. In her statement dated Dec 4, 2016, she said this was a gift from LML’s previous helper. In a later statement of May 29, 2017, she said she found it in her room at LML’s home, when she first started working for LML. I should add, later in court, Ms Liyani was asked about these contradictions. She gave explanations. Her explanations are also set out in the table at Annex 4.
“Putting together Ms Liyani’s apparent inconsistencies, her answers on the jewellery, and the other items which she said she found in the trash like the Prada bag, two Apple iPhones, the pair of Gucci sunglasses, her other questionable answers, and her admission to taking some male clothing without permission, AGC’s view was that there was a case to prosecute. At that stage, the Liews’ position was that the items were theirs.
“AGC also took the view that there was a clear public interest in prosecuting Ms Liyani. Two reasons -– One, it appeared that Ms Liyani had stolen many items, including some seemingly expensive items. Two, it appeared that she had been stealing for years, and it was not impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decisions.”
The minister also affirmed that there had been no attempt by anyone to influence the police or AGC (Part 2, paragraphs 1–3):
“For part 2, I will go into the broader questions that I have identified, which is an inquiry, or rather the questions I dealt with in Part 1 are the inquiry into how investigations, the prosecutions were conducted. Here I want to go into the broader questions. The key question is whether the case was handled differently because of the status of the complainant, or if there has been any improper influence.
“Did LML in any way influence these proceedings? Or was the case investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the rules like any other case? I have said it earlier and I will reiterate. I can be categorical. There was no influence by LML. It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly.
“We have checked with the IOs, their supervisor, the DPPs and their Director. They have confirmed this. There was no pressure or influence exerted on them by LML or anyone acting on his behalf, and they handled this case as they have handled other theft cases.”
4. Upholding The Rule Of Law
“This case is in fact an illustration of how the Rule of Law applies. A foreign domestic worker is charged. The High Court acquits her. The complainant is a wealthy, powerful person. But all are equal before the law. It doesn’t matter who the parties are. Justice according to the facts and the law as the courts see it.
“We may agree or disagree with the State Court’s or High Court’s decisions and conclusions. But that is a different matter.
“If you look at a systemic level, at the highest level, you talk about “the criminal justice system”. We have the police who investigate in accordance with the legal framework for police investigations. AGC makes the charging decision based on (1) available evidence; and (2) public interest. The trial courts consider the sufficiency of the evidence and the legal issues. The appellate courts review the decision of the trial court. This case shows that the criminal justice system as a whole works.
“If you drill down to the next level, we have ‘systems’. For example, these would comprise, investigative protocols, SOPs for how police and DPPs operate. I have mentioned some errors that were made, we have to try and strengthen the ‘systems’ at that level, try and prevent re-occurrence. I have also mentioned the challenges.
“Besides these levels to the system, there will always be the risk of mistakes by individuals. These lapses will have to be dealt with. The idea of Rule of Law is central to our ideas of fairness, equality and justice. It is even more important, in the current zeitgeist that is sweeping through countries.
“Societies around the world are grappling with debates on inequality. A sense that the elite are creaming off most of the economic benefits and bending the rules and systems to their own advantage, and in the process, buying off, suborning those in Government. People are fed up with unfair structures. Equal opportunities are drying up.
“In Singapore, we are not in the same situation. Our active intervention in socioeconomic issues has helped most people to benefit. But our people know. 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 a significant section of our people feel that the system favours some, or that it is unfairly stacked against them, then Singapore will lose its cohesion and it can’t succeed. Thus it is essential that we have a fair system, that we have a clean system, that we have a system that gives opportunities to all.
“These are our fundamental concerns. If LML did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit to our sense of fairness, equality, justice and a dent to Project Singapore itself, because Singapore is built on these ideals.
“We have always been jealous about guarding against such corrosion. It does not mean there will be no abuse of power and no corruption. But when it happens, swift, decisive action must be taken. Members will know successive Governments have been clear about this.
“There has to be a ruthless intensity in upholding integrity. Mr Lee Kuan Yew set the tone. The case of Mr Teh Cheang Wan is a prime example of that approach.”
The minister also stressed the importance of the Government maintaining high standards of conduct (Part 2, paragraphs 46–49):
“And so, we will always have to be very careful. Always remember, we are fiduciaries. This is a sacred trust. We do this for the people. We do the right thing. Do not allow any corrosion of public interest. Act with honour. Be worthy of the trust people have reposed in us.
“It is critical that whatever the relationship, the Government maintains high standards of probity, of conduct so that decisions are made on objective and impartial assessment.
“And have we lived up to those standards? Members can ask that question honestly. What is the lived reality for Singaporeans? How much corruption do people encounter here?
“We rank highly, on credible international indices for absence of corruption, for Rule of Law, for the way our system functions cleanly. This is a country known for all this -– and that continues to be the case.”
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