Monday, 18 June 2012

The Curious Case of Woffles Wu

AGC clarifies reasons for charges
It lays out circumstances of case in what lawyers dub 'significant' move
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 18 Jun 2012

THE Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) yesterday explained why plastic surgeon Woffles Wu was not slapped with stiffer charges for getting an employee to take the rap for two speeding offences.

In a move described as 'significant' by lawyers, the AGC issued a statement to the media to clarify several points pertaining to the case. The statement came a day after Law Minister K. Shanmugam dismissed speculation that the well-known doctor was spared a jail term 'because he's rich'.


Why Wu was charged for abetment rather than providing false information;

Why he was charged under section 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act, and not under the Penal Code, which provides for stiffer penalties.

Wu, 52, was fined $1,000 last week for getting an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences in 2005 and 2006.


The case has sparked discussion online, with some saying his sentence was too lenient, and others asking why the prosecution did not pursue stiffer charges.

In yesterday's statement, the AGC said it was the employee, Kuan Yit Wah, who gave the false information to the police. Kuan, 82, was given a stern warning.

'Woffles Wu, who did not give any information to the police, was charged with abetting Kuan to do so, which is an offence under section 81(3) of the Road Traffic Act,' said the statement. 'There was also no evidence of payment or gratification given to Kuan.'

The AGC also went on to explain why Wu could not have been charged under Section 204A of the Penal Code for intentionally perverting the course of justice, which is a more serious charge.

This is because he had committed his offence in 2006, before this section was enacted in the 2008 revision of the Penal Code.

In Wu's case, there was also no major accident or injury, the AGC noted. Hence, it was 'considered appropriate' for the case to proceed under the Road Traffic Act.

The AGC also noted that prior to 2008, such offences would have been dealt with under this section of the Act.

Yesterday, lawyer Choo Zheng Xi took up this point in an online post. Citing instances prior to 2008 where another section of the Penal Code was used against those who gave false information in traffic incidents, he said these did not involve major accidents.

He also questioned why Wu, as the owner of the vehicle, was not asked to provide details.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam reiterated remarks he made on Saturday on his Facebook page.

On why Wu received only a fine, he said: 'We will know the reasons if the court gives a written judgment. Can only guess at this stage, at what the reasons might be.'





Woffles Wu 'not spared because he's rich'
Law minister weighs in on plastic surgeon's case amid speculation that he got off lightly
The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2012

Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday dismissed speculation that prominent plastic surgeon Woffles Wu was spared a jail sentence 'because he's rich'.

He said Wu's $1,000 fine for getting an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences appeared to be 'within the norm of usual sentences' according to what the Attorney-General's Chambers had told him.

Wu's case has drawn much interest, especially online, with questions raised about the law under which he was charged; why he was hauled up for abetment rather than providing false information; his apparently lenient sentence; and why his case took so long to come to court when the offences were committed in 2005 and 2006.

Last week, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a senior counsel and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, also expressed surprise at the sentence, writing in a blog that such offences were serious as 'they seek to undermine the course of justice'.

Speaking to reporters while visiting Yishun yesterday evening, Mr Shanmugam responded to the issues raised.

Wu, 52, was charged under the Road Traffic Act rather than the Penal Code which provides for stiffer penalties.

Mr Shanmugam said that Wu's offences were committed before the Penal Code was tightened in 2008 to make giving the traffic police misleading information a more serious crime.

So he was charged according to what was the normal practice prior to 2008. 'You can't charge a person for an offence if the section was not in existence at that time,' he said.

Explaining why Wu was charged with abetment rather than providing false information, Mr Shanmugam said this was because Wu 'did not make the misleading statements himself'.

It was Mr Kuan Yit Wah, an elderly maintenance technician who worked in Wu's clinic at the time, who gave police the false information.

He said it is for the Attorney-General's Chambers, acting independently, to decide whether to prosecute and under which section of the law to prosecute. Similarly, sentencing is left to the courts, which are independent.

Mr Shanmugam said that based on what the AG's Chambers had told him, Wu's fine was within the norm for the section of the law he was charged under.

'There have been some cases where courts have sent people to jail, often fines have been imposed. I think it depends on a variety of factors,' he said.

'In this case, the prosecution could not find, did not find any money passing hands for the provision of false information. So they had to simply rely on the fact that an abetment offence was committed.' Noting that Mr Kuan, now 83, was not charged, he said: 'I assume prosecution took into account his age, and presumably, the employer-employee relationship, and so gave him a stern warning.

'But the precise reasons we'll only know if and when the court releases a written judgment. We can all only speculate.'

As for why the case took six years to come to court, the minister revealed that it was because the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau received a complaint only recently.

He was also asked about widespread rumours that it was because of Wu's prominent status that he had been spared jail by being charged under the Road Traffic Act instead of the Penal Code.

He replied that the facts were that Wu had been charged under the normal practice which applied at the time of his offences, rather than the tightened law that came into effect later.

He noted that many were assuming the prosecution could have charged Wu under either the Road Traffic Act or Penal Code, but chose the more lenient 'because he's rich and (so) he got away with it'.

'But that's just factually inaccurate,' he said. 'No one is above the law, and (in) prosecutions, AGC makes independent decisions, the court also makes independent decisions.'

He also said that investigations were ongoing to determine who drove Wu's car at the time of the offences, and additional punishments may be meted out.

This information was not stated in court papers and Wu has so far refused to comment on the question, saying it could compromise the outcome of the case.




FINED LAST WEEK

- Plastic surgeon Woffles Wu was fined the maximum $1,000 last week for getting an employee to take the rap for two speeding offences.

- He had pleaded guilty to abetting Mr Kuan Yit Wah in providing misleading information to the police in 2006. The car, belonging to Wu, was travelling at 91kmh along Adam Road, which has a speed limit of 70kmh.

- Another similar offence, along Lornie Road, committed in 2005, was taken into consideration by the judge when passing sentence.



Mistaken belief

'That's just factually inaccurate.'
- LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on allegations that Wu was charged under the more lenient Road Traffic Act 'because he's rich, and (so) he got away with it'





MP blogs about Woffles Wu's fine
Hri Kumar Nair interested in court's reason, as jail terms given in some cases
By K.C. Vijayan, The Straits Times, 16 Jun 2012

MEMBER of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair has expressed surprise that well-known plastic surgeon Woffles Wu was fined $1,000 for getting someone to take the rap for two speeding incidents.

In a blog posting, Mr Nair said such offences are serious as 'they seek to undermine the course of justice'. Mr Nair, MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, noted there were others who had been convicted of similar offences and who had been jailed.

'I do not know what the judge took into account in making his decision and I accept that no two cases are the same,' he wrote.

He hopes there will be an opportunity for the court to 'explain its reasons', including why jail terms were imposed in other cases.

Mr Nair, a lawyer, said such a move would address claims of unfair treatment that had already surfaced online, and promote transparency and confidence in the legal system.

Dr Wu was fined $1,000 on Tuesday for getting an employee to take the blame. Court papers did not say who the driver was. The 52-year-old had pleaded guilty in a district court to abetting Mr Kuan Yit Wah in providing misleading information to the police in November 2006. The other offence, committed on Sept 11, 2005, was taken into consideration by the judge when passing sentence.

Mr Nair noted that part of the problem lay in the law giving judges very little discretion in sentencing which entails usually a fine or jail or both. 'There may be occasions where a fine is too lenient while jail may be too harsh.'

He pointed out that if the offender cannot pay a fine, he is jailed by default and this converts a light punishment into a heavy one. It also discriminates between those who can pay and those who cannot.

'I would prefer if the court had more flexibility in sentencing so that the punishment truly fits the crime. For example, where a person pays another to take the rap for a traffic offence to preserve his driving licence, wouldn't a more appropriate punishment be to suspend his licence?' said Mr Nair.

A check showed that others who committed similar offences in the past had been jailed but lawyers said each case turns on its own circumstances.

In September 2010, sales executive Charlie Lim Chau Lee, 51, was jailed for six months and fined $1,000 for asking a female friend to take the rap for a 2008 speeding offence. Hair-salon owner Lim Ah Hwa, who agreed to help him, was fined $5,000.

Lawyer R.S. Bajwa said that based on what was reported in Dr Wu's case, the offences could also have been framed under the Penal Code for giving false information to a public servant, which draws more severe penalties. This is for the Public Prosecutor to decide. 'The charges can also be laid under the Road Traffic Act, as in Dr Wu's case, or under the Penal Code. The cases MP Nair referred to may have been dealt with under the Penal Code. Hence the more severe punishments there.'





Woffles Wu pays fine, but speeding probe is ongoing
By Royston Sim and Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 15 Jun 2012

WELL-KNOWN plastic surgeon Woffles Wu Tze Liang paid a $1,000 fine on Tuesday, but he is not out of the woods yet.

Although the 52-year-old was penalised with the maximum fine - for getting an employee to take the rap for two speeding offences - the police said yesterday that they are still investigating the cases.

He had pleaded guilty in a district court to abetting Mr Kuan Yit Wah, 83, in providing misleading information to the police in November 2006.

He committed the other offence on Sept 11, 2005.

Responding to queries on why action was not recommended against Dr Wu for the speeding offences, a police spokesman yesterday said: 'Investigations into the cases are ongoing and have not concluded.'


In 2005, the surgeon got Mr Kuan, then 76, to tell the police that he was the driver of a car speeding at 95kmh along Lornie Road.

In the second incident, on Nov10, 2006, Mr Kuan was said to have lied again that he was driving a car travelling at 91kmh along Adam Road.

He was a maintenance technician in Dr Wu's clinic then.

Dr Wu's car was involved on both occasions, where the speed limit was 70kmh.

Court papers did not state who the actual driver was.

Speaking after the sentencing on Wednesday, Dr Wu said he was sorry for this 'silly mistake' and that this episode had taught him to be more mindful of the law.

'I believe many people similarly did not know that this is an offence,' he said.

When asked if he was the driver during the incidents, he said the point was 'immaterial' for this case.

He pointed out that the identity of the driver was never stated in the court documents and added that he could not comment further without compromising the outcome of the case.

'I was fined for providing the name of someone who was not driving the car, and it was a silly thing I did,' he said, adding that he felt the fine was fair.

The Traffic Police said such cases of furnishing misleading information have been low.

The police have handled only five cases since 2009 - two that year and three in 2010.

Currently, drivers will have their licences suspended if they chalk up 24 demerit points within a two-year period.




Woffles Wu fined $1,000 for getting employee to take rap for speeding
By Khushwant Singh, The Straits Times, 14 Jun 2012

WELL-KNOWN plastic surgeon Woffles Wu Tze Liang was fined $1,000 on Tuesday for getting an employee to take the rap for two speeding offences.

The 52-year-old pleaded guilty in a district court to abetting Mr Kuan Yit Wah in providing misleading information to the police in November 2006.

The other offence, committed on Sept 11, 2005, was taken into consideration by the judge when passing sentence.

That year, Wu got Mr Kuan, then 76, to tell police that he was the driver of a car speeding at 95kmh on Lornie Road.

Mr Kuan was said to have lied again about a speeding offence committed at 9.45am on Nov 10, 2006. The car was then travelling at 91kmh on Adam Road.

Wu's car was involved in both instances, where the speed limit was 70kmh.

Court papers did not state who the actual driver was. The court heard that notices were sent to the plastic surgeon to ask for particulars of the driver.

Concerned that he would accumulate demerit points for the speeding offences, Wu roped in Mr Kuan, then a maintenance technician in his clinic.

Currently, a driver will have his licence suspended if he chalks up 24 demerit points within a two-year period.

Now 83, Mr Kuan was also described as a close family friend of the doctor. He has not been charged.

Asking for leniency, Senior Counsel Harry Elias said Wu had made numerous contributions to Singapore and the aesthetic surgery sector.

Often quoted in the newspapers on issues relating to plastic surgery, Wu runs an aesthetic surgery and laser centre at Camden Medical Centre on Orchard Boulevard.

Also an ardent art collector, he opened the private Museum of Contemporary Chinese Art, also known as Maosoleum, on Kaki Bukit Road in 2010. It houses about 500 pieces of artwork, with many linked to former China leader Mao Zedong.

He told The Straits Times yesterday: 'I regret my mistake.

'This episode has taught me to be more mindful of the law.'

He could have been fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed for up to six months.

The Penal Code was amended in 2008 to make providing misleading information to the Traffic Police a more serious offence.

No comments:

Post a Comment