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Lapses in how the police, AGC handled Parti Liyani’s case, but no improper influence involved: Shanmugam

SINGAPORE — Internal reviews have found some lapses in the way the police and the prosecutors handled Ms Parti Liyani’s theft case. However, there was no improper influence or undue pressure on them at any stage of the investigations and trial proceedings because of the status of her former employer Liew Mun Leong, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that there was no evidence of Mr Liew Mun Leong and his family having personal connections with the police, prosecutors or judge of the court case.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that there was no evidence of Mr Liew Mun Leong and his family having personal connections with the police, prosecutors or judge of the court case.

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  • There was no evidence of Mr Liew Mun Leong and his family having personal connections with police, prosecutors or judge, Law Minister K Shanmugam said 
  • Ms Parti Liyani’s case is an illustration that the rule of law is alive in Singapore
  • The police and AGC had a prima facie case to charge Ms Parti for theft
  • Mr Shanmugam recognised that there were certain lapses in evidence-gathering procedures
  • Internal investigations ongoing into conduct of officers involved and action will be taken if necessary  

 

SINGAPORE — Internal reviews have found some lapses in the way the police and the prosecutors handled Ms Parti Liyani’s theft case. However, there was no improper influence or undue pressure on them at any stage of the investigations and trial proceedings because of the status of her former employer Liew Mun Leong, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

Delivering his ministerial statement in Parliament on the case that has received nationwide attention, Mr Shanmugam also said on Wednesday (Nov 4) that there was no evidence of Mr Liew and his family having any personal connections with any police officer, the deputy public prosecutors or the judge involved. 

Mr Liew accused Ms Parti of stealing items worth S$34,000 from his home. He was a prominent business establishment figure who was most recently the chairman of Changi Airport Group, as well as the former head honcho of several government-linked companies before he retired from all his private and public sector roles in September.

Ms Parti, a 46-year-old foreign domestic worker from Indonesia, had worked for his family from 2007 to 2016.

She was originally sentenced to a jail term of 26 months in March last year, but the High Court overturned the decision and acquitted her of all charges in September. 

The turn of events sparked a public outcry, raising questions about how her trial was conducted, if there were issues with the evidence-gathering process and whether there was subconscious bias given the vast difference in social status between the accused and her former employer. 

However, Mr Shanmugam drew the focus on how this case illustrates that the rule of law is alive and well in Singapore. 

“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,” he said.

“This case shows that the criminal justice system as a whole works.”

HOW THE CASE WAS HANDLED BY POLICE, AGC

Mr Shanmugam emphasised that Ms Parti’s case was treated as any other routine theft case and no one in the senior management in the police force or the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) were involved. 

Decisions were made by the investigation officer and his immediate supervisor in the police force, while the case was cleared at the director level at the AGC. 

There was a prima facie case — based on evidence first seen at the time — for the police to investigate and there was “a clear public interest” for the AGC to later prosecute, Mr Shanmugam said. 

Ms Parti’s inconsistent statements, as well as her own admission to the police that she took 10 to 15 pieces of clothing without consent, seemed to show that she had stolen many items and may have been stealing for years.

Ms Parti later retracted her admission of stealing the 10 to 15 pieces of clothing while giving testimony in court.

“What I put forward to this House shows that the police and the AGC had good grounds to charge Parti Liyani,” Mr Shanmugam said.

Mr Shanmugam categorically denied that Attorney-General Lucien Wong may have influenced the proceedings given that he was on CapitaLand’s board when Mr Liew was serving as the property developer’s president and chief executive officer — a detail that inquiring minds wanted to know during the uproar over the case. 

He added that Mr Wong resigned from CapitaLand on Jan 2 in 2006 because he had a difference of viewpoints from Mr Liew. 

Besides not knowing the investigations and proceedings of the theft charges against Ms Parti until it went to trial, Mr Wong also recused himself when AGC conducted its internal review on how the public prosecution dealt with the case. 

Mr Shanmugam added that Ms Parti’s case was among just 10 per cent of appeal cases that have succeeded where the appellate court takes a different view from a lower court.

This does not mean that one court is right and the other is wrong and that the trial was not conducted fairly, he said. 

LAPSES IN PROCEDURES 

Although there was no improper influence on how the government agencies handled the case, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that there have been breaches in protocol by the investigating officers. 

For instance, there was a gap of about five weeks between the time the Liew family filed a police report on Oct 30, 2016 and the time the police went to the family’s house to gather evidence.

Because the Liews were using the alleged stolen items during this gap of five weeks, the High Court said that there may have been some interference with the items and the theft charge against Ms Parti cannot be proven.

This break in the chain of custody of some of the items was one of the factors leading to her acquittal. 

Mr Shanmugam said that the police should have acted faster and there can be “no excuse” for such a lapse because they have breached legal requirements and police protocols, given how there is a need to ensure the integrity of the evidence relevant to the case. 

However, he added that even if the items affected by this break in chain of custody were removed from the case, there would still be four theft charges against Ms Parti.  

Another lapse was how the photographs of the alleged stolen items, which were shown to Ms Parti when taking her statement, were in black-and-white instead of colour — a point brought up by the High Court judge, Justice Chan Seng Onn, in his judgement and that was conceded by the police. 

The layout of the photos was also not satisfactory, with some showing multiple items in a single photo and they were overlapping. 

MANPOWER SHORTAGE

Mr Shanmugam said that the investigation officer of this case was overloaded with personal matters as well as other ongoing prosecutions and operations, and was under a lot of work pressure. 

This is a problem with no easy solutions because manpower constraints are quite prevalent in Singapore’s civil service, he disclosed. 

In 2016, the year Ms Parti was being investigated, there were about 1,100 investigation officers handling 66,200 criminal cases, Mr Shanmugam revealed. 

Out of the 246 foreign domestic workers arrested for theft that year, 58 were prosecuted — or 24 per cent of those arrested.

He added that the conduct of the officers involved in Ms Parti’s case is being investigated internally and action will be taken as necessary.

LANGUAGE AND GRAMMAR ERRORS

Other lapses included how Ms Parti’s statement was taken and recorded by the police, another factor in the High Court’s decision to acquit her. 

She had given her first four police statements in Malay and only the fifth one was in Indonesian with the aid of an interpreter. 

While Ms Parti understood some Malay, the High Court noted that differences between Malay and Indonesian could create reasonable doubt on the accuracy of her statements. 

Mr Shanmugam explained that her fifth and final statement was taken with help from an Indonesian language interpreter, covered most aspects of the case including those in previous statements and was therefore not affected by any translation issues. 

He also noted that the High Court pointed out how the statements recorded by the police and their questions had inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

Nevertheless, he has asked the police to make sure that in future cases, the accused understands the statement recording process, the purpose of a statement, that they have been asked what language they wish to speak in and that they can ask for an interpreter at any time. 

However, the internal review has found that grammatical errors are difficult to avoid, so Mr Shanmugam said the police need to make sure that any grammatical errors should not affect the interpretation and understanding of the statement.

THE ROLE OF THE PROSECUTORS

As for AGC, disciplinary proceedings are ongoing on how the prosecutors may have created a false impression that a DVD player Ms Parti was accused of stealing was fully functional, so Mr Shanmugam said that he would not be commenting on it. 

This decision was made along with Leader of the House Indranee Rajah and Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, who were also concerned that this should not be discussed in Parliament.

However, AGC has noted that the prosecutors could have relied on independent experts to assess the value of the stolen items instead of just relying on the complainants’ own estimates, which is the usual practice. 

The value of some items that Ms Parti was accused of stealing was debated during trial, with an expert witness saying that some goods had no real value. 

“The prosecution’s overarching role is to ensure that justice is done and not to win the case at all costs,” he added in reference to all court cases and not just this particular one.

Related topics

Parti Liyani Liew Mun Leong K Shanmugam investigation court

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