Wednesday 15 August 2012

No favouritism for Woffles Wu: Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament

Law Minister cites six similar cases in which offenders were dealt fines
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

THERE was no favouritism towards plastic surgeon Woffles Wu when he received a fine recently, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday, citing six similar cases where fines were also given.

Dr Wu was fined $1,000 in June under the Road Traffic Act for getting an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences in 2005 and 2006.

The case sparked questions on why the prosecution did not pursue stiffer charges, which the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) subsequently addressed.

Yesterday, Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked whether the AGC's explanation had addressed "public concerns about the equitability of the legal system".

The question sparked a tense exchange between the Workers' Party MP and the minister.

Mr Shanmugam began by citing the Road Traffic Act, which states that in a suspected traffic offence, the person in charge of the vehicle has to give any information to the police that could identify the driver at the time of the offence. It is an offence if that person wilfully gives false information during this process.

The minister distributed copies of a list of six cases between 2005 and 2006, where the drivers had wilfully given false information to the police on their offences.

These offences ranged from speeding and driving in a bus lane during prohibited hours, to driving without a licence and using a vehicle without insurance coverage. The offenders were fined between $1,500 and $4,000.

Mr Shanmugam then asked Ms Lim several times if she agreed that these punishments were in line with what Dr Wu received.

Ms Lim countered that she also knew of other cases where a jail sentence was imposed.

"My consultations with lawyers who are familiar with this area of practice, they tell me that Dr Wu got off lightly," she replied.

She also pointed to "aggravating factors" in Dr Wu's case.

These included: that it was his idea to abet his employee to provide the false information, that it happened multiple times, and that there was a motive to shield himself from getting demerit points.

Mr Shanmugam's reply: In all the six cases he cited, all were equally deliberate and had the same motive - to avoid being identified - and they also involved multiple offences. All the cases had more serious offences compared to Dr Wu's, such as driving without a licence.

He asked Ms Lim to cite a comparable case which resulted in imprisonment. When she referred to a Mr Tan Jack Saa, Mr Shanmugam argued it was not the same as a deliberate false appeal had been made. "It does not exactly square with the facts here," he said.

The Law Ministry later said this case had involved an appeal letter which not only contained lies about the defendant's involvement in the offence, but also "levelled injurious falsehoods against the police".

Ms Lim also asked how Dr Wu had abetted his employee in giving false information to the police. Mr Shanmugam said that for both speeding incidents, the Traffic Police had sent Dr Wu the usual notice of the offence, requiring him to furnish the particulars of the person driving at the time.

On both occasions, Dr Wu asked his employee Kuan Yit Wah to furnish his own particulars.

"The Traffic Police receive many such forms each day, and usually proceed on the basis of the declarations received," said Mr Shanmugam.

But later, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was told the Traffic Police had been given false information, and investigations found Mr Kuan had made false declarations at Dr Wu's request.

In reply to Ms Lim on whether there would be a written grounds of decision issued, Mr Shanmugam said this would be decided by the court.

Mr Eugene Tan, a Nominated MP, asked whether the police had directly obtained information from Dr Wu. Mr Shanmugam said the police did not interview Dr Wu in their initial investigations in 2005 and 2006, but this was "consistent with usual practice".

"Mr Kuan had signed the relevant forms identifying himself as the driver of the motorcar when the violations were committed. There was no reason for the Traffic Police to suspect that anything was amiss," he said.

Heated exchange in House between MP and minister
By Tessa Wong, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2012

THE question was how the minister viewed the seeming disquiet over the non-custodial sentence for plastic surgeon Woffles Wu but Mr K. Shanmugam zeroed in on the innuendo.

By asking the question that way, Workers' Party (WP) MP Sylvia Lim was implying favouritism, he said.

Mr Shanmugam cited six other cases similar to Dr Wu's case which had also attracted a fine. He then asked Ms Lim twice if she agreed that the way Dr Wu was treated was in line with the punishments meted out in those cases.

The opposition MP did not answer the question, but instead pointed out that there were other cases which led to imprisonment rather than fines.

A tense exchanged ensued, with the minister asking her again if she agreed the punishments were comparable in all the cases.

"I ask her for the third time whether she's willing to answer - and she's capable of answering as a lawyer - all those facts she has identified are present in some of those cases.

Ms Lim: "Speaker, as I said earlier, I've consulted lawyers who are in practice and familiar with this area of the law and in their opinion, they feel that the custodial sentence would have been warranted in such a situation based on facts."

At one point during the exchange, WP chief Low Thia Khiang interjected to ask if Mr Shanmugam was engaging in intimidation.

He said: "Ms Lim basically asked a question, a matter of public interest or as a lead for the Minister for Law to debate. Is he trying to impose some form of intimidation?"

Replying, Mr Shanmugam said these questions were "entirely capable of being answered", later adding that as a lawyer Ms Lim could give her view based on the facts, "rather than referring to some unnamed lawyers she says know better".

"Because I think if we leave aside politics and we want to be honest and fair, that we must look at the facts. And we have a duty to the public to say exactly based on these facts, based on these cases, I agree this is the position."

To Mr Low's accusation, Mr Shanmugam replied: "It's got nothing to do with intimidation. Let's not throw words like 'intimidation' around."

Mr Shanmugam said that another point implied in the question Ms Lim had asked was this: whether Dr Wu could have been charged under another provision to get a heavier sentence.

"There is no such other provision, and if there is, I'm sure Ms Lim will tell me."

He went on to say that several people had rushed to allege bad faith on the part of the prosecution but this was an untenable stance in the face of the facts.

"It is easy to pull down and mock, less easy to build," he said.

Ms Lim countered: "Speaker, minister seems very focused on questioning my competence and I feel that there's a need...

Mr Shanmugam: "Not at all."

Ms Lim: "I think it's apparent to everyone in the House."

Ms Lim said that she was not making any allegations against the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). She asked if Mr Shanmugam was questioning her motive in filing the question or alleging bad faith on her part for casting aspersions on the legal system.

The minister replied he was not.

"What I was saying is, it will be helpful in the context of statements that Ms Lim and others have made in the past that we can actually in this House debate issues, look at issues without having to inject politics into it," he said.

He had addressed her questions as they raised the possibility that doubts were being cast on the AGC. He was therefore "happy to hear that no allegation whatsoever is being made against AGC, so we can all at least move on, on the basis that they exercise their discretion properly".

Six cases where offenders received fines only, no jail terms

IN THE six cases cited by Law Minister K. Shanmugam, the offenders got fines ranging from $1,500 to $4,000. The cases happened in 2005 and 2006. The false declarations abetted by plastic surgeon Woffles Wu were made around then and he was fined $1,000.

Ho Kar Fook Desmond: Driving without supervision with only a provisional driving licence, speeding, using vehicle without insurance, lied to police someone else was driving. He was fined $3,800 and disqualified from driving for 15 months.

Lee Tak Seng: Driving without licence, using vehicle without insurance, driving in bus lane during prohibited hours, lied to police someone else was driving. Fined $2,900 and disqualified from handling all classes of vehicles for 18 months.

Yong Yoong Shin: Driving without licence, using vehicle without insurance, lied to police someone else was driving. Fined $4,000 and disqualified from driving for two years.

Tan Toh Koon: Driving without licence, using vehicle without insurance, lied to police someone else was driving. Fined $3,000 and disqualified from driving for two years.

Ong Chong Cheng: Driving without licence, using vehicle without insurance, using mobile phone while driving, lied to police someone else was driving.

Fined $3,100 and disqualified from driving for 12 months.

Divi Raina Syed: Driving off-peak car without supplementary licence, lied to police someone else was driving. Fined $1,500.

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