Singapore — After the acquittal on appeal barely 2 months ago of Indonesian domestic helper Parti Liyani in a high-profile case, another maid has also been acquitted of theft on appeal.
On Friday (Oct 30), Ms Jimenez was acquitted on appeal by Justice Chua Lee Ming of all 10 criminal charges on which she had been convicted. She “had been charged with allegedly withdrawing money from her employer’s bank account 8 times over 2 months, without his consent”.
Like Ms Parti, Ms Jimenez had been given assistance by the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME).
The case against Ms Jimenez
According to her former employer, Mr Yong Choon Hiong, a 91-year-old former policeman, Ms Jimenez made unauthorised withdrawals from his two bank accounts in January and February 2017. He said that he had never given consent for the helper to take his ATM cards and that he had never given her their PIN numbers.
The defence team claimed that she had been given the authorisation to make the withdrawals with the cards and that she had been paid some of the money in exchange for sexual favours she rendered him on various occasions in January and February 2017. Mr Yong denied these claims.
According to the law firm: “We ran the case that, sometime shortly before 21 February 2017, the complainant’s family must have found out about various withdrawals from the complainant’s bank account. They must have asked him about these withdrawals. We argued that the employer then must have lied to his family, claiming that the withdrawals were unauthorised. We argued that the employer must then have had no choice but to lodge a false police report, to support his fabricated claim.”
Mr Yong said that, having discovered the “unauthorised” withdrawals on Feb 2, 2017, he went to the bank shortly afterwards to file complaints. During the trial, however, it was found that there was no record that he had visited the bank at that time and that the police report had only been filed three weeks after the alleged discovery of “unauthorised” withdrawals, on Feb 22, 2017.
“Even stranger, between the time the complainant allegedly found out about the ‘unauthorised’ withdrawals on 2 February 2017 and the police report on 22 February 2017, Portela somehow still managed to make a few more ‘unauthorised’ withdrawals from the complainant’s 2 ATM cards!,” the law firm added.
The former policeman said he kept his wallet with him at all times, even when going to the bathroom, and claimed that he was careful with money. Ms Jimenez’s defence team argued that this made the theft of the ATM cards all the more difficult.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Sia Jiazheng had, however, argued that since Ms Jimenez had access to Mr Yoon’s bedroom at night to care for his wife, who has dementia, she could get to the ATM card in his wallet, which he kept in a drawer at night, and that she would know the cards’ PIN numbers since she went grocery shopping with the couple.
Ms Jimenez’s lawyers, Suang Wijaya and Syazana Yahya, had argued that Mr Yong gave Ms Jimenez his ATM cards and PIN number in exchange for sexual favours. The helper withdrew S$1,000 from his accounts, but only gave him S$500 back on the four occasions she allowed him to touch her private parts.
The helper was told in April 2017 to pack her things and go to a maid agency. While there, much to her surprise, she was interrogated without a Tagalog interpreter present and had statements taken. “Portela’s own handwritten statements show that she had poor command of English.”
The helper insisted on her innocence every step of the way.
She was found guilty on 10 charges of theft for stealing Mr Yong’s two ATM cards and for making eight unauthorised withdrawals of S$1,000 each from his bank accounts by District Judge Jasvender Kaur in April this year. Ms Jimenez was sentenced to a total of 12 months in jail. She appealed against the conviction.
Her appeal was heard on Oct 30 and she was acquitted by Justice Chua, who accepted four of the defence’s arguments: That there was no evidence that the complainant made any report to the bank in the first week of February 2017, that it was inexplicable that the former employer took three weeks to lodge a complaint with the police, that the prosecution failed to prove how the helper could have accessed the complainant’s ATM cards and PIN.
Justice Chua has not released a written judgment on the case.
“The judge, therefore, concluded that a reasonable doubt had been raised on the charges against Portela. He acquitted Portela on all 10 charges of theft,” wrote the law firm.
It added that in the three years since the charges were brought against her, Ms Jimenez had been unable to work and had no income, had been separated from her family, as well as “faced the daunting prospect of being incarcerated for a substantial period of time in a foreign land. It is difficult to imagine a more harrowing experience”.
Mr Thuraisingam’s firm added: “There are many domestic helpers out there facing predicaments similar to Portela’s and Parti Liyani’s. We urge readers to donate to HOME’s access to justice funds that will go towards helping domestic workers’ fight for justice. You may donate here.
“We are glad that justice was served. We wish Portela all the very best in her future endeavours.” /TISG