Saturday, 7 November 2020

Parti Liyani case: Why Singapore insists on equality before the law

No improper influence in Parti Liyani's case: Law Minister K Shanmugam in Ministerial Statement on the Review of the Case of Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor (2020)
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

Internal reviews by the police and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) have found lapses in how they handled the case of former domestic worker Parti Liyani, but also confirmed that there was no improper influence at any point, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament yesterday.

That a maid accused of theft by her prominent employer, former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, was found guilty by a lower court but later acquitted on appeal in the High Court, shows that all are equal before the law here, the minister added.

Delivering a ministerial statement that stretched for more than two hours, Mr Shanmugam told the House there was no sign that Mr Liew or anyone from his family had lobbied or exerted pressure on the police, deputy public prosecutors or trial judge over the case.

In fact, the decisions on the case were taken by the investigation officer and his immediate supervisor, and it was the deputy public prosecutors and their directors in the AGC who decided to prosecute Ms Parti - the typical way such theft cases are handled.

There were good reasons for these decisions too, since Ms Parti herself had admitted to taking 10 to 15 items of clothing without permission and had also changed her explanations for some of the items from one statement to another, Mr Shanmugam told Parliament.


Justice Chan Seng Onn's acquittal of Ms Parti on Sept 4 had sparked questions about whether a powerful man had worked the system to his advantage, whether the police and AGC had unfairly prosecuted Ms Parti, whether she got a fair trial and whether there was one law for the wealthy and another for others.


"If Liew Mun Leong did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit to our sense of fairness, equality, justice and (be) a dent to Project Singapore itself, because Singapore is built on these ideals."

There must be a ruthless intensity in upholding integrity, he said.


Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai accepted that Mr Liew did not exert influence in the case, but suggested that more could be done to ensure that the scales of justice are not tipped against the less powerful.

Ms Lim and Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang GRC) moved a motion for debate on issues raised by the case, asking that "the House affirms that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore's justice system, and calls on the Government to recognise and remedy its shortcomings in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of means or social status, including facilitating a review of the justice system".

Ms Lim and six of her party colleagues called on the Government to take a two-pronged approach to address what they saw as shortcomings in the system. She suggested the executive branch can tackle the "low-hanging fruit" like enhancing the criminal legal aid scheme, but said a Constitutional Commission should be set up to review more "complex matters" such as the separation of the Attorney-General's powers as public prosecutor and government lawyer.



Expressing disappointment at this, Ms Lim said it implied the Government "does not even accept that there are any shortcomings... and that there would be no review".

In the end, all 10 WP MPs and two Progress Singapore Party NCMPs voted against the amended motion in a show of opposition unity.

During the marathon session that ended close to midnight, the House discussed issues thrown up by Ms Parti's case, going through the High Court judge's remarks as well as suggesting ways to improve access to justice for the poorer and less educated, and to protect the independence of the different parts of the criminal justice system.


Mr Shanmugam stressed that the point of his statement was not to reopen Ms Parti's case, and declined to comment on her conduct when asked by Mr Xie Yao Quan (Jurong GRC). "She has been acquitted by the High Court. And I said that we must proceed on that basis and not reopen that issue. I think we leave it at that and I don't want to be commenting on the decision," he said.


He noted the High Court's finding that Mr Liew's son Karl was dishonest, and yesterday, the police said the younger Mr Liew will be charged with perjury today for giving false information to a public servant and giving false evidence in court.

The investigation officer involved in the case and his supervising officer will also be disciplined for lapses in attending to evidence.


MPs agreed with Mr Shanmugam on the overall soundness of the system.

Responding to their points, Mr Shanmugam thanked Ms Lim and Ms He for recognising that the criminal justice system, taken in totality, works well.

"They're not saying the system is broken, or ineffective," he said. "We are on the same page, in many ways we are pushing at an open door."















AGC had sufficient evidence to prosecute Parti Liyani
Ex-maid was assessed to be untruthful, with inconsistencies in statements: Shanmugam
By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

There were good reasons and sufficient evidence to charge Ms Parti Liyani for theft, and police investigators and prosecutors had assessed that she was untruthful, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.


After she was arrested, Ms Parti admitted taking 10 to 15 items of male clothing without permission, and her explanations for some of the items changed from one statement to another, he told Parliament.

The minister was delivering a ministerial statement on the case of Ms Parti, who was acquitted by the High Court on Sept 4 of stealing from then Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong - who had lodged a police report against her in 2016 - and his family.

The case sparked an uproar, with MPs and others raising questions about the criminal justice system.

Mr Shanmugam said the case was handled as a routine theft case and there was no attempt by anyone to influence the police or prosecutors. "There was sufficient evidence which showed theft offences were likely to have been committed," he added.



He told MPs that when Ms Parti was arrested on Dec 2, 2016, some items were found on her, including two Longchamp bags, two watches and two white iPhone 4s.

Mr Shanmugam also noted how, for example, on Dec 4, 2016, she said in her police statement that two watches - one a "Vacheron Constantin" and the other a "Swatch" - were gifts from a friend.

However, in a statement on May 29, 2017, she changed her story to say that she had found the two watches - which turned out to be counterfeits - in the trash of Mr Liew's daughter May.

Ms Parti's claim that she had found items such as a Prada bag, two Apple iPhones and a pair of Gucci sunglasses in the trash were also found to be not credible by the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), said Mr Shanmugam.

Putting together Ms Parti's apparent inconsistencies, her questionable claims about finding expensive items in the trash and her own admission to taking the male clothing, the AGC's view was that there was a case to prosecute, said the minister.

He added that at that point in time, the Liews had identified all the items in the charges as their belongings.

For example, while Ms Parti claimed she had found some jewellery in the trash, Ms Liew said she never threw jewellery away and would give away unwanted jewellery to the Salvation Army or friends.

In this instance, the AGC assessed that Ms Liew's evidence was more believable.

Mr Shanmugam said the AGC also took the view that there was a clear public interest in prosecuting Ms Parti for two reasons.

"One, it appeared that Ms Parti had stolen many items, including some seemingly expensive items. Two, it appeared that she had been stealing for years, and it was not impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decisions," he added.

The minister said he was setting out these materials in some detail so that MPs can assess for themselves the basis for the decisions the police and the AGC had reached.

He also said there was a prima facie case against Ms Parti, and that the police and prosecution did not know that the Liews, in particular, Mr Karl Liew, would be inconsistent during the trial.


After her trial in the State Courts, which was heard for over 20 days, the district judge found serious inconsistencies in Ms Parti's evidence and that she had various versions for certain items.

The trial judge noted that Ms Parti said different things in her statement, compared with her testimony in court, which sometimes changed under cross-examination.

The trial judge also found her testimony on some items to be implausible. For example, Ms Parti said she had picked up two phones from a rubbish bag. The iPhone 4 models were about six years old at the time.

The trial judge preferred the Liews' testimony that they would not discard old mobile phones and used them as spares or to keep photographs.

Mr Shanmugam said the trial judge found Ms Parti to be untruthful, after hearing evidence from 12 prosecution witnesses and four defence witnesses, and had the opportunity to observe them and consider their testimony.

The High Court, however, came to a different view after a three-day appeal. Mr Shanmugam noted that the High Court judge gave Ms Parti the benefit of doubt because he was troubled by Mr Karl Liew's unreliable statements.

About 10 per cent of appeals in criminal cases succeed in setting aside the convictions or reducing the sentence, Mr Shanmugam said, adding that this case fell within that category.

The High Court's decision on the acquittal is final and there is no appeal, he noted, saying the statement is not an exercise of reopening it.













Parti Liyani case shows everyone is equal before the law here: Shanmugam
Criminal justice system works and it is critical to protect its integrity, he says
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

A foreign domestic worker was charged and found guilty of theft in Singapore and the complainant was a wealthy, powerful person, but the maid was later acquitted by the High Court on appeal.

This shows that everyone is equal before the law and it does not matter who the person is, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam as he gave a detailed account of the series of events in Ms Parti Liyani's case, which sparked debate about the fairness of the justice system.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, he said the case illustrates how the rule of law functions in Singapore.

"We may agree or disagree with the State Court's or High Court's decisions and conclusions. But that is a different matter," he added. "This case shows that the criminal justice system as a whole works."

He was making a ministerial statement on the case involving Ms Parti, whom the High Court on Sept 4 acquitted of theft from then Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family. The case sparked an uproar, with MPs and others raising questions about the criminal justice system.

Mr Shanmugam said there is a sense in many societies that the elite have bent the rules to their advantage and were "buying off, suborning those in government".

"People are fed up with unfair structures. Equal opportunities are drying up," he added.


However, this is not the case in Singapore, he said, adding that it is all the more critical to protect the integrity of the system that has been built up over the years.

"We must jealously guard the availability of equal opportunities. We must ensure that everyone has a fair shake. We must be alert, guard against the wealthy and the powerful taking unfair advantages," he said. "If Liew Mun Leong did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will hit our sense of fairness, equality, justice. A dent to Project Singapore itself because Singapore is built on these ideals."

The country has always guarded against the corrosion of its justice system, but this does not mean that there will be no abuse of power or corruption, said the minister. When it happens, there must be swift, decisive actions to punish those responsible and stamp out such behaviour, and successive governments have been very clear about this position, he added.

He cited the investigation of Teh Cheang Wan, who was minister for national development between 1979 and 1986, for corruption as a prime example of the Government's "ruthless intensity in upholding integrity".

He was one of the most senior members of first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's Cabinet, yet when corruption allegations surfaced, Mr Lee directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau to investigate, said Mr Shanmugam.

"Mr Lee said at that time: 'There is no way a minister can avoid investigations, and a trial if there is evidence to support one.'"

These values of Singapore's founding generation of leaders have been scrupulously stressed and adhered to by the two succeeding prime ministers, and are like "religious commandments", he added.

"There cannot be any compromise."

Mr Shanmugam noted that under Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, many high-ranking officials who have erred have had action taken against them.

He cited several examples:

Former Singapore Civil Defence Force commissioner Peter Lim was jailed for six months in 2012 and dismissed from the public service for corruption.

Former CPIB assistant director Edwin Yeo was jailed for 10 years for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and forgery.

Former National Kidney Foundation chief executive T. T. Durai was jailed for three months for corruption.

Former Singapore Environment Council executive director Howard Shaw was jailed for 12 weeks for paid sex with a minor.

Said the minister: "The message is: It doesn't matter who you are. If you do wrong, action will be taken."







Parti Liyani's dismissal was not sudden, says Shanmugam
New evidence shows family thought of firing maid for some time before they did so, he says
By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

Former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his wife had already thought of dismissing Ms Parti Liyani by late 2015, and Madam Ng Lai Peng had repeatedly visited the maid agency to review the biodata of new domestic workers.

Ms Parti was fired on Oct 28, 2016 because her replacement became available then.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam disclosed this in Parliament yesterday to show Ms Parti's dismissal was not "sudden", as believed by High Court judge Chan Seng Onn.

In his ministerial statement, he said new evidence that emerged from investigations after Justice Chan's decision to acquit Ms Parti of theft was "quite different" from the inferences the judge had made.

Mr Shanmugam emphasised that the fresh evidence is untested in court, but said he was duty bound to go through the facts, which arose out of further investigations into the Liews' conduct.


In his judgment on Sept 4, Justice Chan found there was reason to believe Mr Liew and his son Karl had an improper motive for making the police report.

Justice Chan concluded the Liews pre-emptively dismissed Ms Parti on Oct 28, 2016 because they knew she was unhappy about being illegally deployed to work at Mr Karl Liew's home and his office.

The judge concluded that when she told members of the family - after she was fired - that she wanted to complain to the Manpower Ministry (MOM), the Liews then filed the police report to stop her from returning to Singapore to make the complaint.

Justice Chan's conclusion on the Liews' motive rested on three planks: that Ms Parti's dismissal was "sudden"; that she told two family members while packing her belongings that she wanted to complain to MOM; and that the police report was made to prevent her from returning to Singapore to file a complaint.

But Mr Shanmugam said Ms Parti's dismissal was not sudden.

He said Mr Liew had been thinking of firing her for some time after suspecting her of theft, but Madam Ng did not make a firm decision after looking for potential replacements in late 2015.

After a specially designed power bank from France he received in May 2016 went missing, Mr Liew decided to fire her and in September that year, Madam Ng chose a replacement. The new maid arrived in Singapore on Oct 25, 2016 and the family decided that Ms Parti would be dismissed on Oct 28, said Mr Shanmugam.


The second point centred on what Ms Parti had said about her intention to lodge a complaint with MOM after she was fired on Oct 28.

What the maid said was that she wanted to complain about the short notice period, Mr Shanmugam told the House. This was confirmed by a maid agent who was present at the Liews' house while she was packing, he said.

"(Ms Parti) did not say that she wanted to complain to MOM about anything else. As can be seen, this is quite different from the inference that the High Court had made.

"But the High Court understandably went on the basis of the evidence and the submissions made to it. The High Court did not have the benefit of this additional evidence. And as I have said, our purpose is not to reopen the High Court's findings."

Further investigations also revealed that the maid agents twice offered to help Ms Parti lodge an MOM complaint, but she declined.

She lodged her complaint about illegal deployment after she was charged, he said.

As for the third issue, Mr Shanmugam pointed out that filing a police report would not stop Ms Parti from returning to Singapore to lodge a complaint. "Indeed, in this case, it didn't stop her from returning to Singapore."

While the High Court found that the reason for filing the report was "curious", Mr Liew had stated that he was doing so "for record purposes" because he was worried that Ms Parti's boyfriends might break into their home.

Mr Shanmugam said: "I put forward these points on the filing of the police report because for our purposes, in this context, the question is not whether the High Court is right or wrong.

"But rather, the question is: How did the police and AGC proceed? Is there anything so obviously wrong about the filing of the police report that should have been apparent to the police and AGC?

"On the material before them, did the police and AGC have good reason to proceed on the basis that this was a routine theft case? That is the central question."













Shanmugam admits police lapse in Parti Liyani probe, says disciplinary action being taken
By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

The five-week gap between the filing of the police report by Mr Liew Mun Leong and his son and police officers visiting the scene was a breach of a legal requirement as well as police protocol.

Disciplinary action is being taken against the officer concerned as well as his supervisor, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday in his replies to Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai after he delivered a ministerial statement on the Parti Liyani case.

The delay in the police visit to the crime scene was one of the reasons for the High Court's decision in September to acquit Ms Parti of stealing from her employers.


In his judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn found that there was a break in the chain of custody of the items that were said to have been stolen. Ms Parti had packed the items into three boxes after she was fired on Oct 28, 2016.

She returned to Indonesia that night after Mr Karl Liew agreed to send the boxes to her. The next day, the boxes were opened by the Liews, who found items that they said belonged to them.

Justice Chan said it could not be proven that Ms Parti had taken the items that were eventually documented by the police because the boxes might have been interfered with while they were with the Liews.

Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said the police should have visited the scene close to the time that the police report was made on Oct 30, 2016.

The police are legally required to respond to a crime scene promptly or as soon as practicable, he said. In this case, the police went to the Liews' home only on Dec 3, 2016.


He added that internal investigations are being carried out in relation to the conduct of the officers involved in the case, and action will be taken as necessary.


The minister said he had asked for an explanation for the lapses and was told the investigation officer had been busy with a number of ongoing prosecutions, arrest operations and personal matters.

The officer seemed to have been under a lot of work pressure and was in a predicament, he added.

Mr Shanmugam said he has asked for a review of the workload of investigation officers, but acknowledged there was no easy solution to a manpower issue.

He also noted it is not always necessary for police to seize items when investigating cases.

However, even if the items are not seized, the police have to obtain a proper record of the evidence, such as by taking photographs of the items.

"In this case, careful photography, soon after the police report was filed, may have been good enough. But that was not done. I said, there can be no excuse," he added.


The minister also addressed a point raised by Justice Chan that Ms Parti had not been given a Bahasa Indonesia interpreter for her first four statements.

He said the police officers believed in good faith that Ms Parti understood Malay. She also chose to speak in Malay, had worked in Singapore for over 20 years, and did not ask for an interpreter during the recording.

In addition, an interpreter was provided in recording her final statement, which dealt with the majority of areas covered in the earlier statements, and when the charges were served on her.

"On that basis, her final statement is not affected by any interpretation issue," he said.

Mr Shanmugam has also asked the police to ask what language accused persons wish to speak in, and also - which they do - to explain briefly what the process entails, the purpose of the statement, and that the accused may ask for an interpreter at any time.










Shanmugam challenges Leong Mun Wai to justify 'vague' call for independent inquiry into Parti Liyani case
By Justin Ong, The Straits Times, 4 Nov 2020

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Wednesday (Nov 4) said he is prepared to recommend a commission of inquiry (COI) into the Parti Liyani case, adding however that he had "heard nothing" to justify one.

In concluding his ministerial statement, the minister had challenged Non-Constituency MP (NCMP) Leong Mun Wai to specify the issues that he felt warranted a high-level independent inquiry into the case.

This sparked two separate exchanges that ended with the Progress Singapore Party NCMP withdrawing his call for a COI.


In responding to Mr Leong's parliamentary question on the matter, Mr Shanmugam noted that the police officers and prosecutors involved in the case have confirmed they did not face any improper pressure.

A disciplinary tribunal will look into complaints against the prosecutors from the Attorney-General's Chambers, he added in his statement on Ms Parti, an Indonesian domestic helper who on Sept 4 was acquitted of stealing from then-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family. The case has prompted questions about the criminal justice system.

"Thus, before we have a commission of inquiry, which is a serious matter (that) will take up resources, lots of time, more and more work; the member should specify what part of this matter continues to reasonably make him believe and question that undue influence was used by the Liews."

In response, Mr Leong said that while he appreciated how the ministerial statement had provided additional information on the case, he maintained the need for an independent inquiry to have "more discussion" on the matter and look into "systemic aspects of the whole criminal justice system".

"For example, on evidence-gathering... I am not a lawyer by legal training, but I was told by lawyers that it could be called evidence contamination and all those things," he said.

In response, Mr Shanmugam said: "It's not a question of making some broad and vague statements. You are representative of the people... This is serious business. It's not a question of saying 'I'm not a lawyer'.

"(Do) we have a commission of inquiry on the entire law, the police and enforcement system? Is that even imaginable? So can we please have some clarity on what is it that concerns you? What is it that you want the commission of inquiry to look into, which has gone wrong?"


This first exchange saw Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin step in twice to remind Mr Leong to be more specific in his responses.

Mr Leong, 61, attempted to give two examples. First, he questioned the five-week gap between the filing of the police report by Mr Liew and the police officers visiting the scene, notwithstanding manpower constraints cited by Mr Shanmugam.

He then said Mr Shanmugam's interpretation of the behaviour of the Liews, with regards to Ms Parti, could be further investigated and analysed.

Mr Shanmugam said manpower issues were an explanation but not an excuse for the five-week gap, and that "the police do not in any way seek to defend it".

On the Liews' behaviour, he noted: "There are 250,000 foreign domestic workers, and about 200,000 families. How they interact with each other cannot be the subject of a Government commission of inquiry.

"It is legally not possible to hold a commission of inquiry to look into the conduct of employers and maids."

Mr Leong then clarified that he was referring to Mr Shanmugam's interpretation of the Liews' motive, but the minister stopped him short, saying: "Interpretation of motive has got nothing to do with the Government... It's got nothing to do with how the police proceeded, it's got nothing to do with how AGC proceeded, it is something that has come out in the course of the investigation; subsequent investigations."

The issue of motive, said Mr Shanmugam, "cannot properly" be the object of a commission of inquiry.

"What I'm trying to drive at is that the whole case probably requires more investigation, and interpretation of the facts," said Mr Leong. "But if you think that that is enough, then I will withdraw my proposition or recommendation for an independent inquiry."

Mr Shanmugam replied: "It is not right to come here and say, 'I think that a commission of inquiry is necessary, I cannot tell you why, I cannot tell you what my concerns are, I cannot pinpoint anything, I make no allegations, but in general, you know, it's good to have a commission of inquiry'.

"Let me put it on record: I have no problem recommending such a commission of inquiry. We have nothing to hide; completely transparent about this issue (sic). But in law, they will say (this is) Micawberism."

Micawberism is a reference to the constant state of feckless optimism displayed by the eponymous Wilkins Micawber, a character in the Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield.

"So far, we have heard nothing that I can rationally put together to justify a commission of inquiry," said Mr Shanmugam. "So I will leave it at that."



This prompted a second exchange with Mr Shanmugam, who again pressed Mr Leong to specify the basis for a COI.

He also said Mr Leong was "quite wrong" in saying Ms Parti's case was only reviewed internally.

"It's gone through a very public process, with detailed cross-examination and a minute forensic examination of every possible issue relating to police and AGC," he said, before reminding Mr Leong that the duties of MPs were "not to come and repeat whatever is outside".

Mr Leong again raised what he called "systemic" faults exposed by the case, this time asking why checks had failed at each stage of the process.

Mr Shanmugam reiterated disciplinary proceedings were underway for both police and AGC officers, and asked Mr Leong to clarify if he was suggesting an element of improper influence. The NCMP said he was not.

In that case, there was no basis for a commission of inquiry, the minister said.

"We thought the systemic faults alone were enough to be a basis for the inquiry, but after your explanation, we are prepared to accept that you had done a thorough investigation of the situation already," Mr Leong conceded, for the second time that day. "Then we'll withdraw our proposal for the inquiry."













Karl Liew, son of ex-CAG chairman, charged with giving false information and evidence in Parti Liyani case
By Shaffiq Alkhatib, Court Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

Karl Liew, son of former Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong, appeared in a district court on Thursday (Nov 5), and was charged with giving false information to a public servant.

Karl Liew, 43, is also accused of giving false evidence during a judicial proceeding.

Bail has been set at $15,000.

He will be back in court on Dec 17.


For giving false information to a public servant, an offender can be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $5,000.

Offenders convicted of giving false evidence during a judicial proceeding can be jailed for up to seven years and fined.

Karl Liew is linked to a case involving Ms Parti Liyani, 46, who used to work as a domestic helper for the older Liew and his family from 2007 to 2016.

She was later accused of stealing more than $34,000 worth of items from the household. The items included a $10,000 Gerald Genta watch, 115 items of clothing worth $150 each, as well as two iPhones with accessories valued at more than $2,000 in total.

According to court documents, Karl Liew allegedly gave false information to one Assistant Superintendent Tang Ru Long at around 8pm on Dec 10, 2016.

He is accused of telling ASP Tang in a statement that he had found 119 pieces of clothing belonging to him inside boxes packed by Ms Parti.

Karl Liew is also accused of intentionally giving false evidence in a judicial proceeding before District Judge Olivia Low at the State Courts on July 17, 2018.

He allegedly testified during the trial, while being legally bound by an oath, that a cream polo T-shirt and a red blouse belonged to him.


Ms Parti was sentenced to two years and two months’ jail in March last year. But Justice Chan Seng Onn overturned her conviction on four theft charges following an appeal in September this year.

Her lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandani, who acted pro bono, had argued at her appeal that she was being framed to prevent her from lodging a complaint against the family for illegal deployment.

Mr Balchandani said that besides working at the Chancery Lane family home, Ms Parti had also been told to clean the office and home of Karl Liew.

Justice Chan had found that there was an "improper motive" on the part of the older Liew and his son to prevent Ms Parti from complaining to the authorities.


Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament in a ministerial statement on Wednesday that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) will, from this case hereafter, seriously consider looking into allegations of perjury or other serious offences should such findings arise in court-issued judgments or decisions in legal proceedings.


In a statement on Wednesday evening, the police said: "Following the release of the High Court judgment and in light of the High Court's comments, the AGC directed the police to conduct further investigations with a view to assess if any offences have been committed by the Liews."

Police added that they have completed their investigations.

Karl Liew, who is represented by lawyer Adam Maniam from Drew & Napier law firm, was expressionless as he stood in the dock at around 9.30am on Thursday.

Accompanied by his legal team and an unidentified woman, he left the State Courts building at around 11am and entered a black car.

All of them declined to comment when The Straits Times approached them.













Why Attorney-General recused himself from AGC's internal review
Review of Parti Liyani case shows no improper influence by Liew Mun Leong at any point, says Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

When Attorney-General Lucien Wong resigned from the board of CapitaLand in 2006, it was over differences of viewpoints on some issues with Mr Liew Mun Leong, who was then the president and chief executive officer of the listed real estate group.

Given this history, Mr Wong recused himself from the Attorney-General's Chambers' (AGC) recent internal review of the case involving Mr Liew's former maid Parti Liyani.


Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday disclosed this in Parliament as he stressed the reviews by the police and the AGC have confirmed that there was no improper influence at any point in the case. "I can be categorical; there was no influence by Liew Mun Leong. It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly," the minister said.

Questions on propriety had cropped up after Justice Chan Seng Onn overturned Ms Parti's conviction on appeal and said in his judgment there was reasonable doubt about Mr Liew's motive for making a police report against her.

The relationship between the A-G and Mr Liew came under scrutiny particularly after the AGC announced the A-G would not be involved in the review of the case.

Some had suggested the two men were close as Mr Wong had been on CapitaLand's board.

On why the A-G recused himself from the AGC's internal review, the minister said: "The A-G felt that given the history of differences he has had with Liew Mun Leong, the perception of fairness may be affected if he oversaw the review.

"Thus, the A-G had nothing to do with this case at any stage."


Mr Shanmugam said the decision to prosecute the maid was dealt with at the level of the deputy public prosecutors (DPPs) and their directors, and the A-G did not know of the proceedings about Ms Parti until the case went to trial.

Setting out how such cases are handled, he said when the AGC receives a file from the police, prosecutors will assess whether or not to charge or if action has to be taken.

This assessment and the decisions are usually cleared by a director, and are not brought to the attention of the deputy chief prosecutor, chief prosecutor, deputy A-G or A-G unless they involve more serious or sensitive crimes, or where the A-G's consent to prosecute is expressly required. He added that neither Mr Liew, his family members or any intermediaries had approached the AGC on the case.

Similarly, the police's internal review showed decisions on the case were taken by the investigation officer (IO) and his immediate supervisor. "It didn't come to the attention of the senior management," he said.


"We have checked with the IOs, their supervisor, the DPPs and their director," he added. "There was no pressure or influence exerted on them by Liew Mun Leong or anyone acting on his behalf, and they handled this case as they have handled other theft cases."













Singapore's legal system works well, strikes balance between specialisation, integration: Law Minister
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

Singapore's legal system is working well, and strikes a balance between specialisation and integration in the legal service, said Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.

There are also safeguards for judicial independence, and judges with prosecutorial experience will bring further expertise to their work, he added.

Mr Shanmugam was responding in Parliament yesterday to Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), who had asked how many judges in the State Courts were former prosecutors in the Attorney-General's Chambers, and if the Law Ministry would review its policy on the separation of duties in the legal service.

The total number of officers in the legal service and judiciary, excluding High Court judges, is 801 - a relatively small number, Mr Shanmugam said.

In this context, there may be questions about why officers are posted between the State Courts and other parts of the legal service, he added.

He said: "Can there be independence, if they are liable to be cross-posted?"

Mr Shanmugam said the Legal Service Commission believes that rotation provides access to a larger pool of talent, helps its officers become more well-rounded, and gives the system flexibility to accommodate officers who want to try different types of work.

All movements in the legal service are overseen by personnel boards and/or committees, which are chaired by the Chief Justice and the Legal Service Commission, of which the Chief Justice is president.

Mr Shanmugam also responded to Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai's question on whether the trial process can be expedited for economically vulnerable foreign nationals.

If cases are expedited for foreigners, then Singaporeans accused of crimes will have to wait much longer, he said.

Now, there are 55 judges at the State Courts handling about 600 criminal trials each year - which is a heavy load. About 22 per cent of these cases involved foreigners, Mr Shanmugam said.

He added that the median time taken for criminal trials in the State Courts - from the time a person is charged in court to the judgment being delivered - is 15 months.

This depends on various factors such as the nature of the case, the availability of lawyers, as well as documents and witnesses.


Mr Leong also asked about the interpretation services available in the Singapore Police Force. Mr Shanmugam replied that there is a pool of interpreters available for the three official working languages as well as the more common local dialects. For foreign languages, interpreters are engaged on an ad hoc basis.

Interpreters are used when interviewees are unable to understand interviewers, or vice versa, he said. There is a framework to assess the suitability of interpreters, which includes their qualifications and relevant work experience.

In the specific case of former maid Parti Liyani, she was asked and said she could speak in Malay, Mr Shanmugam said.

"The point is whether the interviewee understands the language being used, and as I said earlier, the police have been told they must check this," he added.







Minister warns against danger of influence peddling
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

In a small country like Singapore, people appointed to high positions have deep connections with others they may have met through work, in school or during national service, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

This is why people appointed to these posts must have character and the moral fibre to do the right thing, to guard against soft corruption and influence peddling which can be more insidious than outright corruption, he added in his statement on Ms Parti Liyani.

Her acquittal by the High Court of theft sparked an outcry among some who asked whether her former employer, prominent businessman Liew Mun Leong, had exerted improper influence in the decision to charge and convict her.

Noting that internal reviews by the police and Attorney-General's Chambers have shown there was no improper influence, Mr Shanmugam said: "If we had seen anything wrong by way of influence peddling, swift, open, transparent action would have been taken."

He said the "serious, insidious risk" of the powerful, influential and wealthy enriching themselves and favouring their families and friends to the detriment of society is something Singapore's leaders have been vigilant about.

He cited founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and Old Guard minister Goh Keng Swee who had warned about the type of nepotism - "the insidious 'old boy' type, whereby no illegalities are committed" - that will cause fundamental structures to be "eroded like the supporting beams of a house after termites have attacked".

Mr Shanmugam said: "We have to be very careful, to try and stamp it out wherever it appears. And make no mistake, it will keep appearing, in big and small ways."

He cited the letter Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sends out at the start of each new term of Parliament to People's Action Party MPs to uphold integrity, honesty and incorruptibility and be wary of those who may cultivate and lobby them with gifts or favours.

Mr Shanmugam told MPs: "Even before it reaches the kind of conduct referred to in PM's letter, if we feel that there is some conduct that requires a closer look, we do take a closer look. I am referring here to conduct which is not criminal, nor a breach of ethics, but which in our view should be avoided. Something that may be legal but, for example, leads eventually to something which is not of so good odour."

Mr Shanmugam disclosed that when he had sensed such situations cropping up, he had asked MPs to "have a cup of coffee with me" and the issue was usually resolved. "And if it is not resolved, then they don't remain as MPs."

He also said the Government has not and will not try to stop or intervene if any MP is investigated and censured over criminal behaviour.

Singapore's smallness presents a more "challenging environment" in managing connections and interactions among those in positions of influence, he noted.

"We will always have to be very careful, always remember we are fiduciaries," he said. "It is critical that whatever the relationship, the Government maintains high standards of probity, of conduct, so that decisions are made on objective and impartial assessment."

Mr Shanmugam warned that where influence peddling has been allowed, big businesses have been able to influence policies through aggressive lobbying, in some cases even leading to "state capture", a type of corruption in which businesses are able to take control of state assets for their benefits.

He cited the United States, where influence peddling is accepted as part and parcel of politics, and South Africa's graft scandals involving former president Jacob Zuma and the wealthy Gupta brothers.

Ensuring the system stays clean is a critical question for Singapore, he said. "We have a media that highlights these issues. See the number of articles that have appeared on this matter," he said. "A well-educated, aware population that holds us accountable. And Parliament, where we have these issues to be openly discussed, debated."

But these factors are also present in many countries where influence peddling is a cancer, he said, adding that Singapore has had in its three prime ministers the strong will to ensure a clean system, and the decisiveness to act when something goes wrong.

"The rot starts at the top. If the top is clean, the system can work well. And we've got to make sure of that. If it starts, then very few things can save such a country."













Govt studying setting up of public defenders' office for accused who can't afford lawyer, says Shanmugam
By Fabian Koh, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

A Public Defenders' Office could be set up by the Government to provide legal help for those facing criminal charges in Singapore but are unable to engage their own lawyers.

It is a proposal being considered in the review of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS), which was enhanced in 2015, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told the House yesterday. The review started last year.

The details and feasibility of such an office will be further studied by the Government together with the Law Society and Criminal Bar, he said, adding that the Ministry of Law is in favour of it.

But such a scheme is not without challenges, he noted, citing examples faced by similar schemes overseas.


Mr Shanmugam explained that having a Public Defenders' Office means the Government pays for the lawyers and employs them in a separate structure, to defend the accused in criminal cases.

"How many officers, how big, how much, are conversations we have to have with the Ministry of Finance (MOF), among others. But in principle, we have to first discuss it with the profession, and then talk to MOF and deal with the issue.

"In principle, our approach, I think, might have to go down that route, and we are, at least my ministry - Ministry of Law - in favour of this approach," he said.

The minister was responding to Ms Carrie Tan (Nee Soon GRC) during his ministerial statement on the Parti Liyani case. Ms Tan had asked about implementing such a scheme.

Ms Parti, who worked for the family of former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, was sentenced to jail last year for stealing from the family. She successfully appealed against her conviction, and her acquittal prompted questions about the criminal justice system's treatment of people who are less well-off.


Mr Shanmugam also addressed questions from Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai on increasing direct legal aid to those who cannot afford to get their own lawyers.

He said there is a framework and assessment process in place for the CLAS, which was initiated in 1985 by the late Senior Counsel Harry Elias and is administered by the Law Society's Pro Bono Services.

Means and merit tests are applied for each case to ensure that funding is targeted and allocated to vulnerable applicants who genuinely need help.

The Government pays 75 per cent of CLAS' operating costs, including staff salaries and overhead costs, with the remaining 25 per cent funded through private donations and the Law Society.

Mr Shanmugam added that the honoraria paid to the lawyers are "extremely nominal", so their services are effectively pro bono.


To decide if Singapore's model - of the Government and private sector jointly funding such legal aid - should be changed to one of full government funding, he cited some overseas situations.

For example, the fully government-funded criminal legal aid scheme in England and Wales has drawn much public debate and outcry owing to abuse and escalating government cost, and unhappiness over the large legal aid fees.

Hong Kong has also experienced growing legal aid budgets owing to yearly increases in lawyers' fees.

"You must note, once you make legal aid a requirement, you can't proceed with the case until you find a lawyer who is willing to handle it for the fees proposed," said the minister.

While Ms Parti was represented by lawyer Anil Balchandani pro bono, the defence counsel estimated that if full fees were charged, it could have cost $150,000.

Mr Shanmugam noted that if criminal legal aid was set as a requirement, then taxpayers would have to pay that amount.


Responding to Mr Leong's question on whether lawyers under CLAS can receive a higher honorarium, Mr Shanmugam said: "My preference is to keep the pro bono spirit. A mix of lawyers employed specifically by CLAS... with lawyers from private sector coming in."

He added that "we are also not completely satisfied with the current model".

He further said that when it was announced in 2014 that CLAS was to be enhanced, some lawyers were concerned it would eat into their rice bowl. But he explained to them that the target group was those who could not have gone to them anyway.

He added that discussions are ongoing with the Law Society, which is supportive of expanding criminal legal aid but has expressed strong concerns on the impact on paid work, especially for small law firms.

Likewise, discussions are ongoing with the Criminal Bar, which has counter-proposed expanding the coverage of offences instead.










Leader of the House Indranee Rajah clarifies why WP motion was amended
Opposition MPs passed up chance to debate amendments to WP motion on criminal justice system: Indranee
Changes were made to better reflect debate and obtain bipartisan support, she says
By Justin Ong, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2020

Amendments to the recent Workers' Party (WP) motion on the criminal justice system were made to more accurately reflect the debate in Parliament, establish common ground with the opposition, and obtain bipartisan support, said Leader of the House Indranee Rajah yesterday.

Writing on Facebook, she said the amendments to the motion, moved on Wednesday by WP chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC), were up for further debate and that Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin had invited all MPs to speak on the matter.

"None of the opposition MPs did so," said Ms Indranee. "Ms Lim stated that she only wanted to speak to close the debate."


The motion, which came in the wake of the acquittal of former domestic helper Parti Liyani and a lengthy ministerial statement on the case by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, originally stated: "That this House affirms that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore's justice system, and calls on the Government to recognise and remedy its shortcomings in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of means or social status, including facilitating a review of the justice system."

Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, then suggested amendments which were passed by Parliament but dissented by WP MPs.

The motion now reads: "That this House recognises that fairness, access and independence are cornerstones of Singapore's justice system, and affirms the Government's continuous efforts since independence to build a fair and just society and remedy any shortcoming in order to enhance justice for all, regardless of race, language, religion, economic means, or social status."


The next day, the WP's Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) posted a picture on Facebook displaying the original motion with its amendments, along with a caption stating: "The Workers' Party's original motion called for an external review to consider changes to address gaps and shortcomings in the current justice system, particularly as relates to access to justice for all. Have a look at how the amendment changed the meaning and sense of that motion."

Fellow WP member Kenneth Foo, a candidate at this year's election, then commented on the post that "when you control the Parliament, you call the shots".

Yesterday, Ms Indranee sought to clarify the sequence of events in Parliament, and opened her Facebook post by asking directly: "Did the PAP (People's Action Party) really cancel out the WP motion?"

The Minister in the Prime Minister's Office wrote that the original call to the Government to recognise and remedy its shortcomings was unclear in what "its" referred to. "It could mean the system as a whole is defective. Or it could mean government shortcomings which have somehow made the system defective," she said.

And the original call for a review of the justice system suggested the entire system was defective, Ms Indranee noted.

"However as the debate progressed, it became clear that there was bipartisan consensus that our system is not broken, has served Singapore well, and is improving. But as with any system, it can be further improved," she said, pointing out that Ms Lim had said the same in her speech.

"Indeed there was a lot of common ground between the PAP and WP MPs in the debate," Ms Indranee added.

She noted that many of the WP's suggestions put forth during the debate were already being considered by the Government - such as the notion of a public defenders' office.

"Other suggestions could not be so easily implemented due to high costs and potential downsides. For suggestions that the Government disagreed with, the PAP ministers took pains to explain why this was so," said Ms Indranee, a former practising lawyer.

"After all the speeches were delivered... it was evident that a wide ranging root and branch review of the justice system was not necessary."

Amendments, she added, were a more constructive course of action compared with rejecting the WP's motion altogether.


Ms Indranee also noted that the WP MPs had agreed to some amendments but not others. She said their opposition to the third amendment - from "its" to "any" shortcomings - was, in particular, "puzzling and sad".

"Mr Murali was certainly not saying that there were no shortcomings," said Ms Indranee.

"On the contrary, by including the words 'any shortcomings' the amendment expressly recognises that there are indeed shortcomings and these must be remedied, as we have remedied other shortcomings over the years.

"But the amended motion also seeks to be fair, and acknowledges that the Government has over the years continuously tried to improve the system. But the opposition MPs would not acknowledge this."

She concluded: "The Government will nevertheless continue in our efforts to improve our system and enhance justice for all."










Two court trials and a Parliament debate on Parti Liyani case: Justice in an imperfect world
Parti Liyani was found guilty, then acquitted. New facts surface. What do two court trials and a Parliament debate tell us about the justice system?
By Chua Mui Hoong, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

Before Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam spoke about the case of Indonesian domestic worker Parti Liyani in Parliament on Wednesday, many Singaporeans wondered if there was a miscarriage of justice in the way she had been previously convicted of stealing $34,000 of items from her former employer Liew Mun Leong, who used to be chief executive of CapitaLand.

Ironically, after the parliamentary debate in which new information was disclosed, many will continue to ask if justice was served - because she was eventually acquitted.

Welcome to justice in an imperfect world.


New evidence

High Court judge Chan Seng Onn was widely seen as having righted the scales of justice by overturning Ms Parti's conviction on appeal. In his judgment, he rapped the police over a break in the chain of custody of evidence, chided prosecutors over the demonstration of a faulty DVD player at trial, and criticised the lower court judge for misapplying the "legal and evidential burdens of proof".

Then, on Wednesday, Mr Shanmugam spoke in Parliament for over two hours on the case, providing new information that emerged from an internal review of how the police and the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) had handled the case, that had been sparked by the High Court judgment.

Ms Parti had admitted to taking 10 to 15 items of male clothing. Also, it emerged that the Liews' decision to terminate her employment was not abrupt, as the judge had assumed.

Justice Chan had acquitted Ms Parti, as it was possible the Liews might have an "improper motive" to accuse her of theft, and to terminate her employment suddenly, so that she could not complain to the Ministry of Manpower about being illegally deployed to clean the house and office of Mr Liew's son Karl.

Mr Shanmugam said that, in fact, the Liews had suspected their maid of stealing from 2015, and decided to terminate her employment in September 2016. Once a replacement was found, they decided to let her go.

As for the threat to complain, Mr Shanmugam said this was a complaint about being sent home on short notice, not of illegal deployment - a point backed by an employment agent present when Ms Parti made that threat.

While untested in court, the new information now made public will lead many Singaporeans to ask, as People's Action Party (PAP) MP Xie Yao Quan did in Parliament: "Is Ms Liyani in fact guilty?"


Mr Shanmugam did not give Mr Xie a direct answer, saying only: "She has been acquitted by the High Court and I said that we must proceed on that basis, and not reopen that issue. I think we leave it at that. And I don't want to comment on the decision."


With the High Court decision, the case is closed and its judgment final. But in the court of public opinion, the jury is still out.

Ironically, the niggling feeling over a possible miscarriage of justice may prevail, although directed towards a different target. Now, some will wonder if the High Court acquittal was just, and if Ms Parti did in fact steal some items, but has managed to get away scot-free, while the police officer investigating her faces disciplinary action for delaying investigations by five weeks, and Karl Liew has been charged with giving false evidence and information.

But as Mr Shanmugam noted, this was just one of the 10 per cent of appeal cases which succeeded. This simply meant that the higher court disagreed with the lower court, he said.

As he explained, the question "is not which court was right or wrong. The key question is: Was the case conducted fairly in both courts?"

"Ownself check ownself"?

As far as this particular episode goes, some clarity has been achieved.

This wasn't a straightforward case. One picture emerged from the State Courts. Another scenario was laid out at the High Court. A third variation was presented at the parliamentary debate. Singaporeans will have different theories on what really happened, and whether and how justice was served.

But on the core issue of whether a rich, powerful family pulled the strings of the justice system for its own benefit, the answer from Mr Shanmugam was clear: No.

There was no attempt by anyone to influence the police or AGC, which handled it as a "routine theft case".

Indeed, the overloaded police investigation officer took five weeks before visiting the Liews' home, the scene of the offence - which is the opposite of what one expects if the case were flagged for special attention.

As Mr Shanmugam stressed, and as MPs from both sides affirmed, equality before the law remains a core tenet of the justice system.

Sceptical Singaporeans out there, however, may say this was yet another case of "ownself check ownself". The internal review of police process was done by the Criminal Investigation Department. The prosecution's conduct is now the subject of a disciplinary process.

Why not have an independent commission of inquiry (COI), some will no doubt ask. This was indeed Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai's call in Parliament. In response, Mr Shanmugam noted that such a commission required having a senior judge preside and involved considerable resources, but he was prepared to recommend to Cabinet to have one if needed.


He asked Mr Leong, who is from the Progress Singapore Party, to pinpoint specific issues not dealt with, that merited such an inquiry. When Mr Leong replied, he responded to each point. Then he asked if Mr Leong was suggesting there was improper influence on the case, to which the latter said no. After a series of heated but polite exchanges, Mr Leong withdrew his call for an independent commission and Mr Shanmugam thanked him.

Mr Leong did not come across as intimidated, so I presume he withdrew his call for a COI on principle - with confidence that there was no need for one, after the internal reviews, parliamentary debate and forthcoming disciplinary processes.

The question of bias

So the rich folk in this case didn't engage in "influence peddling", to use Mr Shanmugam's term.

But was there bias? Were the police and prosecution officers more inclined to believe the Liews than the maid?

When Singaporeans ask if the justice system is biased, they are asking not just whether the privileged get favourable treatment or pull strings for themselves, but also whether police officers, prosecutors, even judges, internalise social hierarchies and make decisions that favour the rich and powerful.

Are they more inclined to believe the testimony of someone from a similar socio-economic class as themselves? Who went to the same school as them?

This is at the root of discomfort over inequality in Singapore, the sense that rewards and better treatment, including a better chance of a favourable outcome in court, might go to those in the "insider" group.

This kind of bias is harder to detect and deal with. I know bias is a human trait, and such issues are hard to unpack. In my September commentary on the Parti Liyani case which Mr Shanmugam shared on his Facebook page and promised answers to, I had asked if explicit or implicit bias played a role in this case.


Bias can be sussed out by one's actions and decisions. It can be inferred from one's statements. But it is also a state of mind, a meta-attitude that is hard to tease out. It can be seen in, for example, a police officer or judge who takes the word of Karl Liew that an item belonged to him, more easily than he would believe the maid who said it was hers and she bought it. Weighing who and what to believe, when, and by how much, is subjective, and yet so much of the justice process involves such subjective assessment, albeit backed by whatever evidence is available. Such assessments are easily influenced by bias.

While Mr Shanmugam did not address such implicit bias explicitly in his ministerial statement, he did deal with it when responding to PAP MP Christopher de Souza on how to "entrench impartiality".

Mr Shanmugam said that while explicit bias can be detected, "we got to be always on guard" to see if some implicit bias is at work and "we got to guard against it".

The best protection against bias is a system where the police, AGC as well as the State Courts and the High Court all work independently, have a clear role, and arrive at the right result.

"I think that's the safeguard. Good people across all the different parts, clear rules, transparency and accountability. When people ask questions, we have to be accountable here. And if something goes wrong, the will to put it right as well... And to be very alert about any kind of influence peddling," he added.

Justice in society

In over 30 years of covering parliamentary proceedings as a journalist, I would rank Wednesday's debate among the top five in watchability and importance.

It was as gripping as a legal thriller and as dramatic as a political series on Netflix. The nine-hour debate should be edited into a two-hour docu-drama. Like the other iconic parliamentary debates (over ministerial salaries in 1994 and discounted property purchases in 1996), this debate is about politics and justice in the real world. It is candid about how justice works in the real world, and about the risks of "influence peddling", especially in close-knit Singapore where many people know one another, and how to prevent it.

Mr Shanmugam, who said he had spent 22 years in private practice, added:

"I have worked with many senior counsels, senior lawyers, appeared before many judges. Our small size means these connections, interactions are inevitable."

Where there is a conflict, the person involved can recuse himself. Otherwise, there is no neat solution except to appoint people of moral fibre to do the right thing. "Always remember, we are fiduciaries... Do not allow any corrosion of public interest. Act with honour. Be worthy of the trust people have reposed in us."

As the debate continued, I felt some pride in how Singapore's democracy is maturing.

With a few procedural lapses, the justice system worked as it should - from investigation to prosecution, conviction, appeal and acquittal. The High Court judge did his part in correcting what he saw was a wrong judgment, and took pains to point out weaknesses in the police and prosecution process. The relevant ministries took up the criticisms and did an internal review.


Parliament performed its duty as a forum which the Government accounts to. The opposition stepped up - the Workers' Party's motion raised the quality of debate to look beyond this one episode to consider broader systemic issues, with their MPs arguing passionately for measures to improve access and fairness in the justice system.

Indeed, Mr Shanmugam said the Government was on the same page as the WP and they were "pushing on an open door" as far as their calls to expand legal aid and codify prosecution disclosure of information to the defence are concerned.

Outside Parliament, Ms Parti is being supported by various migrant worker rights groups and defended by dedicated pro bono lawyers like Anil Balchandani. They are not letting up in pressing for justice as they see it.

Meanwhile, other rights groups want improvements in how vulnerable foreigners are dealt with in the justice system here.

Mr Shanmugam also mentioned the role of the media and a well-informed public in scrutinising court decisions.

The legislature, the executive, the judiciary, the media, the public, and an active civil society sector - these are all components of a modern democracy that together help ensure justice.

Justice is not just about what happens in a case in court. We live in an imperfect world and justice is never straightforward or absolute.

Justice is also about how we all relate to one another in life and how the component parts of different institutions adhere to advance fairness and equality. By that measure, I think the Parti Liyani case shows we are doing quite well.










Why Singapore insists on equality before the law: Shanmugam
In his ministerial statement in Parliament on Wednesday on the case of Parti Liyani, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam underlined the importance of equality before the law. Here are edited excerpts of his remarks.
The Straits Times, 5 Nov 2020

The key question is whether the case was handled differently because of the status of the complainant, or if there has been any improper influence.

Did Mr Liew Mun Leong in any way influence these proceedings? Or was the case investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the rules like any other case? I have said it earlier, and I will reiterate. I can be categorical. There was no influence by Mr Liew. It was treated as any other theft case and handled accordingly.

This case is in fact an illustration of how the rule of law applies. 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. (They receive) justice according to the facts and the law as the courts see it.

We may agree or disagree with the State Courts' or High Court's decisions and conclusions. But that is a different matter.


Criminal justice system

If you look at a systemic level, at the highest level, you talk about "the criminal justice system".

We have the police who investigate in accordance with the legal framework for police investigations. The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) makes the charging decision based on (1) available evidence; and (2) public interest. The trial courts consider the sufficiency of the evidence and the legal issues. The appellate courts review the decision of the trial court.

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

If you drill down to the next level, we have "systems". For example, these would comprise investigative protocols, standard operating procedures for how the police and deputy public prosecutors operate. I have mentioned some errors that were made; we have to try to strengthen the systems at that level and try to prevent a reoccurrence. I have also mentioned the challenges.

Besides these levels to the system, there will always be the risk of mistakes by individuals. These lapses will have to be dealt with. The idea of rule of law is central to our ideas of fairness, equality and justice. It is even more important in the current zeitgeist that is sweeping through countries.

Societies around the world are grappling with debates on inequality. (There is) a sense that the elite are creaming off most of the economic benefits and bending the rules and systems to their own advantage, and in the process, buying off and suborning those in government. People are fed up with unfair structures. Equal opportunities are drying up.

In Singapore, we are not in the same situation. Our active intervention in socioeconomic issues has helped most people to benefit. But our people knowwe must jealously guard the availability of equal opportunities. We must ensure that everyone has a fair shake. We must be alert and guard against the wealthy and the powerful taking unfair advantage.

If a significant section of our people feel that the system favours some, or that it is unfairly stacked against them, then Singapore will lose its cohesion and it can't succeed. Thus it is essential that we have a fair system, that we have a clean system, that we have a system that gives opportunities to all.

These are our fundamental concerns. If Mr Liew did unfairly influence the proceedings, then it will be a hit to our foundations. It will be a hit to our sense of fairness, equality, justice, and a dent to Project Singapore itself, because Singapore is built on these ideals.

We have always been jealous about guarding against such corrosion. It does not mean there will be no abuse of power and no corruption. But when it happens, swift, decisive action must be taken. MPs will know that successive governments have been clear about this.

Cases of corruption There has to be a ruthless intensity in upholding integrity. Founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew set the tone. The case of Mr Teh Cheang Wan is a prime example of that approach.

He was one of the most senior members in Mr Lee's Cabinet. But when corruption allegations surfaced, Mr Lee directed the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to conduct investigations. Mr Teh was placed on leave of absence. He ultimately chose to end his life rather than face trial or corruption charges which the AGC had (then) yet to settle.

Mr Lee said at that time: "There is no way a minister can avoid investigations, and a trial if there is evidence to support one."

These were the values of our founding generation. And these are, and have to be, our continuing values.

They have been scrupulously stressed and adhered to by the two succeeding prime ministers. They are like religious commandments. There cannot be any compromise. Where there is a breach, action is taken. Action will be taken.

Let me refer to some cases.

In 2012, you had:

- Mr Peter Lim, Commissioner of the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF). In fact, he was Commissioner of SCDF when I was Minister of Home Affairs. He was convicted of corruption charges for receiving sexual favours with three different women. He was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and was dismissed from public service following disciplinary proceedings.

- In 2013, you had CPIB assistant director Edwin Yeo misappropriating money. He was jailed for 10 years for criminal breach of trust as a public servant and for forgery.

- In 2007, you had Mr T.T. Durai, chief executive of the National Kidney Foundation. He was convicted of corruption and sentenced to imprisonment. He appealed to the High Court but (the appeal) was dismissed.

- In 2012, Mr Howard Shaw, then executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, was convicted of obtaining commercial sex with minors. He had asked for a nominal fine based on testimonials of his good character and social standing. The court found no exceptional circumstances and sentenced him to 12 weeks' imprisonment. The sentence was to provide a strong deterrence to others.

Mr Lim was a senior Home Team officer. In many countries, his actions would not have attracted criminal punishment. In most countries, commissioners of SCDF and assistant directors of CPIB are pretty much untouchable. But not in Singapore.

Guard against influence peddling

The message is, it doesn't matter who you are. If you do wrong, action will be taken. But it is not only corruption that we must guard against. We must also guard against soft corruption and influence peddling. Let me quote what Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Dr Goh Keng Swee have said.

In 1984, Mr Lee said, and I quote:

- "We exercised power as trustees for the people, with an abiding sense of our fiduciary responsibility. Our honour, our sense of duty made us exercise power scrupulously. We have curbed, restrained, prevented any distortion of policies which would have been inevitable, if the personal interests of the few in charge were allowed full rein. This is the case in many new countries."

- "When those in office regard the power vested in them as a personal prerogative, they inevitably enrich themselves, promote their families, favour their friends. The fundamental structures of the modern state are eroded, like the supporting beams of a house after termites have attacked them. Then the people have to pay dearly and long for the sins and crimes of their leaders."

And as early as 1961, Dr Goh warned about the risks that groups of elites might create an environment that would favour one community at the expense of another.

In an article in the Nanyang University journal in 1961, he said, and I quote:

"To achieve an honest and energetic administration appears easy in theory. In practice, very few of the young and emergent nations have achieved this. Even in the most advanced and leading societies, whether communist or democratic, the problem of nepotism is a recurring one and can only be countered by constant vigilance.

"In advanced societies, it is not so much open nepotism that is to be feared, but the insidious 'old boy' type whereby no illegalities are committed, but in which the pinnacles of power, influence and wealth are the reserve of those born into the right families.

"In underdeveloped countries, the matter could be more serious. A system may arise in which the dominant majority, whether of families, clans or even entire communities, arrogates to itself not only the openings to the seats of power, but also the avenues by which individuals can fit themselves out for such positions of power. The dominant majority is thus able to point out that those outside of the charmed circle just do not have the necessary qualifications to be admitted to this elite group.

"Thus many able and aspiring people are denied the opportunity for the full use of their abilities."

I personally find these words, very powerful, insightful, and I have more than once quoted the speech of Dr Goh in my own speeches because Dr Goh has, I think, identified precisely a serious, insidious risk in any society, including ours.

We are not that special that we can be immune to these risks. We have to constantly make sure that we don't allow it. We have to be very careful, to try to stamp it out wherever it appears. And make no mistake, make no mistake - it will keep appearing in big and small ways.


Letter from PM to MPs

This is again something successive prime ministers have been vigilant about. One illustration of that is the letter that the prime minister sends out at the start of each new term of this House. Most members are aware of the letter.

I quote parts:

"The context each time may be different, but the subject remains constant. Integrity, honesty and incorruptibility are fundamental. We must never tire of reminding ourselves of their importance. One vital factor to retain the trust of Singaporeans all these years is honesty and integrity. The reputation for clean, incorruptible government is one of our most precious assets.

"I cannot stress strongly enough every MP must uphold the rigorous standards we have set for ourselves. Do nothing to compromise them. Never give cause for allegations that you are misusing your position, especially your access to ministers.

"A few will cultivate you to obtain benefits for themselves or their companies, to gain respectability by association with you, or to get you to influence ministries and statutory boards to make decisions in their favour. Personal favours big and small are just some of the countless social lubricants which such people use to ingratiate themselves to MPs and make you obliged to them.

"At all times be seen to be beyond the influence of gifts or favours. Separate your public political position from your private, professional or business interests. MPs who are in business, who occupy senior management positions in companies, or who sit on company boards should be especially vigilant.

"You must not exploit your public position as government MPs, your close contacts with the ministers, or your access to government departments and civil servants, for your personal interest or the benefit of your employers. Your conduct must be always above board. We have held our position because our integrity has never been in doubt. Always conduct yourselves with modesty, decorum and dignity."

I can tell MPs this is all not just nice-sounding advice. Even before it reaches the kind of conduct referred to in the prime minister's letter, if we feel that there is some conduct that requires a closer look, we do take a closer look.

I am referring here to conduct which is not criminal, nor a breach of ethics, but which in our view should be avoided. Something that may be legal but, for example, could lead eventually to something which is not of so good odour.

When we sense that, I usually have a chat with the relevant MP. They come and have a cup of coffee with me. When they leave, the issue is usually resolved. And if it is not resolved, then they don't remain as MPs. But don't worry, it doesn't happen every time people come and have coffee with me.

If it is criminal, of course there will be prosecution. And there have been MPs and former MPs who have been prosecuted. And if there are breaches of other rules, the respective professional or regulatory bodies will take action, as they have done. We don't intervene or try to stop any of this.

I have dealt with this at some length because we must understand these are fundamental values. If we don't keep them, we will be in trouble. In Singapore, in this context, we have a more challenging environment.

We are a small place. A lot of people know each other. (There are) many educational, professional, work-related and social family connections - same schools, colleges, universities, time spent in national service, other connections. People interact with each other frequently.

We try to look for people on the basis of merit. And they will often, because of their careers and education, have deep connections with many others whom they interact with. The way we handle this is to make sure the persons appointed are men and women of character. That they have the moral fibre to do the right thing.

Our small size means these connections and interactions are inevitable.


And so, we will always have to be very careful. Always remember, we are fiduciaries. This is a sacred trust. We do this for the people. We do the right thing. Do not allow any corrosion of public interest. Act with honour. Be worthy of the trust people have reposed in us.

It is critical that whatever the relationship, the Government maintains high standards of probity, of conduct, so that decisions are made on objective and impartial assessment.

And have we lived up to those standards? MPs can ask that question honestly. What is the lived reality for Singaporeans? How much corruption do people encounter here?

We rank highly on credible international indices for absence of corruption, for rule of law, for the way our system functions cleanly. This is a country known for all this - and that continues to be the case.


When the system goes awry

What happens if you allow the system to go awry? What happens when you allow influence peddling? What happens when you allow corruption, abuse of position and abuse of power?

Let me give you a couple of examples.

First, the United States. Influence peddling has become part and parcel of politics and governance. The US Supreme Court has said that "ingratiation and access embody a central feature of democracy".(It is) not against the law for officials to set up meetings, host events and call other officials on behalf of lobbyists. Big businesses extensively lobby regulators, using middlemen.

I personally think this is not good for the healthy functioning of society.

Lobbying itself is a massive business. Big Pharma, for example, spent US$4.45 billion (S$6.03 billion) on lobbying alone, over the last 22 years. And it works. One study found that regulators were 45 per cent less likely to initiate enforcement action against banks that lobby, versus banks that don't.

The experience of South Africa offers another example.

In South Africa, "state capture" is a buzzwordbecause of how private interests have exerted influence over government decision making and used this influence to plunder the state. Corruption scandals involving the former president and the Gupta brothers are the most famous examples. It is, of course, an extreme example of the system going awry.

Critical question for us: How do we ensure that the system stays clean? That we don't allow what Mr Lee and Dr Goh warned against?

We have a media that highlights these issues. See the number of articles that have appeared in this matter in the Singapore media. Accountability - a well-educated, aware population that holds us accountable. And Parliament, where we have these issues to be openly discussed, debated. All these are essential.

But these factors are also present in many countries where influence peddling is nevertheless a cancer.

We have avoided that slippery path, because in addition to the above, we have had in our three prime ministers the strong will to ensure a clean system and the decisiveness to act when something goes wrong. Always, always - regardless of your rules, and regardless of your systems - the rot starts at the top. If the top is clean, the system can work well. And we've got to make sure of that. And if it starts, then very few things can save such a country.


In this case, if we had seen anything wrong by way of influence peddling, swift, open, transparent action would have been taken.










Any shortcomings found in criminal justice system must be remedied, says PM Lee Hsien Loong on Parti Liyani case
He says efforts will continue to ensure justice system is clean, just and works equally for all
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2020

The Parti Liyani case, involving the former domestic worker of former Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, has generated much attention and concern among Singaporeans, and understandably so, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday, in his first public comments on the matter.

He also said that if there are any shortcomings found in Singapore's criminal justice system, they must be remedied.

"Building a democratic society based on justice and equality is a fundamental goal of our nation. To do this, we need proper and fair enforcement of our laws," he added in a Facebook post.

"We will continually strive to protect and improve our justice system, so that people can be assured that it is clean, just and works equally for all."


PM Lee's comments came after the matter was debated in Parliament last Wednesday in a marathon nine-hour session.

The House heard from Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam who delivered a ministerial statement on Ms Parti's case, and also debated a motion put forward by Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim on improving the criminal justice system.

On the session, PM Lee said the ministerial statement had comprehensively put forward the facts of the case, adding: "Both sides of the House agreed that it had been treated as a routine case by the police and the AGC (Attorney-General's Chambers), and that there was no attempt by any party to influence its outcome."

Ms Parti was accused of theft in 2016 by her then employer, Mr Liew, and was convicted by the State Courts last year.

She was acquitted this year by the High Court on appeal, sparking a public outcry among some, who asked why she was charged in the first place and whether Mr Liew had exerted any improper influence on the case.

Mr Liew is a prominent businessman who was also on the boards of government-linked entities such as infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong and Temasek Foundation.

He resigned from these positions following the public outcry.

Mr Shanmugam disclosed in Parliament that the internal reviews by the police and the AGC had found lapses in how they handled the case, but also confirmed that there was no improper influence at any point.

He said there was no sign that Mr Liew or anyone from his family had lobbied or exerted pressure on the police, deputy public prosecutors or trial judge over the case.

In fact, it was the investigation officer and his immediate supervisor, and the deputy public prosecutors and their directors who handled the case, as is typical of such cases, he added.


Mr Shanmugam reiterated this yesterday in a Facebook post which PM Lee shared: "The facts showed that the police and AGC had strong grounds to charge her, and no one attempted to exert any influence."

In the post, Mr Shanmugam also linked video clips of the key points of his speech, including his criticism about the "cavalier attitude" of the Liews, particularly Mr Liew's son Karl, who has since been charged with perjury in court and furnishing false information to the police.

He added in the post that the High Court's decision to overturn Ms Parti's conviction is final.

"This case illustrates how the rule of law is applied in Singapore," he said.








Related

Ministerial Statement on Parti Liyani v Public Prosecutor [2020] SGHC 187 (Part 1) - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law - 4 Nov 2020

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