Sunday 16 February 2014

Appeals court doubles Romania ex-diplomat Ionescu's sentence in hit-and-run accident in Singapore

Romanian court ups jail term to six years; previous sentence 'too lenient'
By Jonathan Eyal, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

ROMANIAN police have arrested former diplomat Silviu Ionescu after a Court of Appeal doubled his sentence from three to six years' jail for manslaughter in a 2009 hit-and-run case in Singapore.

Ionescu, 52, continued to protest his innocence as police picked him up early yesterday in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, in the first step before his permanent transfer to jail after the surprise appeals court decision on Thursday.

He told journalists that he was "not prepared" for the "far too heavy" sentence, and that he "does not consider himself culpable".

"Still, at least we all live in Romania," he added, in yet another attempt to attract national sympathy for his often-repeated claim that he could not expect "real justice" in Singapore.

Asked by journalists whether he would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the only legal recourse theoretically still available to him, Ionescu expressed "doubts" about his chances of "seeing justice done".

Nearly a year ago, a Romanian court found him guilty of hitting three pedestrians, killing one of them, in 2009 while at the wheel of a car belonging to the Romanian mission. He fled Singapore but was arrested and tried in his home country.

The unusual decision by the Court of Appeal to double his punishment carries additional authority because it was made by some of Romania's leading judges. Senior judge Ion Tudoran rose to fame a decade ago for his involvement in a celebrated case which resulted in the jailing of a former Romanian prime minister on corruption charges, while Mr Dorel Matei, the other judge, was promoted to the Appeals Bench only last year, but is widely regarded as a high-flier who came top of his legal cohort.

In rejecting Ionescu's denials as "a convoluted web of lies" and ruling that his previous sentence was "too lenient", the judges attached particular significance to the fact that his behaviour as charge d'affaires in Singapore "deformed and harmed Romania's international reputation".

The judges also accepted the State Prosecution's claims that the accused "showed no remorse whatsoever" for his crimes, another factor counting against him.

His sentence was therefore increased to six years' jail for manslaughter with aggravated circumstances, 21/2 years for grievous bodily harm with aggravated circumstances, and four years for fleeing the site of an accident.

Since the sentences run concurrently, Ionescu will only have to serve the heaviest one of six years.

In a response to queries on the decision, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that the Government "welcomes the decision by the Bucharest Court of Appeal to uphold Ionescu's convictions as well as to enhance his sentence".

Guilt will weigh on ex-diplomat forever: Victim
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 15 Feb 2014

HIS dreams of making the national rowing team were snuffed out just over four years ago, when he was one of three victims of a hit-and-run accident.

But despite the doubling of former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu's jail term from three to six years, Mr Muhammad Haris Abu Talib said it does not really matter any more.

"No matter how long his jail term is, at the end of the day the sense of guilt will forever weigh on his mind," he told The Straits Times yesterday in a phone interview while en route to a Valentine's Day dinner with his girlfriend of one year.

"Perhaps six years is slightly more justified, but it doesn't really matter."

Mr Haris, 22 and a full-time national serviceman, suffered a torn ligament in his left ankle in the Dec 15, 2009 accident.

But life has been on the mend for him since the fateful accident at a Bukit Panjang junction that killed one and injured two.

He has now fully recovered from his injuries and even goes to the gym and plays football.

"(My ankle) does not restrict me in any way," said the holder of a diploma in digital entertainment electronics from Republic Polytechnic.

"But I know my limits and I don't push myself," he added.

A lengthy recovery meant he had to give up rowing but he said it was a "blessing in disguise" as he developed a passion for street photography.

He has invested more than $3,000 of his savings into the hobby and has not ruled out taking it up as a full-time job.

Former croupier Bong Hwee Haw, now 28, suffered head injuries in the crash. He has returned to Malaysia.

Malaysian hotel manager Tong Kok Wai, 30, suffered brain damage in the crash - just three weeks after he got married.

His widow made the heartbreaking decision to take him off life support 10 days after the accident.

Madam Yenny Young, now 34, has also moved on after the tragedy.

She returned to her home city of Solo, Indonesia, and remarried in 2012 to a businessman who runs an electrical shop.

Madam Young, now a housewife, gave birth to a daughter last year.

She said via e-mail when contacted about the latest developments: "I am sorry, I don't have any comment.

"All I can say is that I am happy with my new family. All of us, my family and friends, never talk about Mr Tong any more."

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