2011 fire at Afro Asia Building: Man faces murder charge

Govindasamy Nallaiah is charged with the murder of Madam Low Foong Meng, wife of his former lawyer Rengarajoo Balasamy (right). -- PHOTOS: SHIN MIN, PHOTO COURTESY OF RENGARAJOO BALASAMY
Govindasamy Nallaiah is charged with the murder of Madam Low Foong Meng, wife of his former lawyer Rengarajoo Balasamy (right). -- PHOTOS: SHIN MIN, PHOTO COURTESY OF RENGARAJOO BALASAMY
Govindasamy Nallaiah (above) is charged with the murder of Madam Low Foong Meng, wife of his former lawyer Rengarajoo Balasamy. -- PHOTOS: SHIN MIN, PHOTO COURTESY OF RENGARAJOO BALASAMY
Govindasamy Nallaiah (above) is charged with the murder of Madam Low Foong Meng, wife of his former lawyer Rengarajoo Balasamy. -- PHOTOS: SHIN MIN, PHOTO COURTESY OF RENGARAJOO BALASAMY

Govindasamy Nallaiah, the man accused of killing his former lawyer's wife in the aftermath of the Afro Asia Building fire in 2011, will have his day in court.

A total of 58 witnesses are expected to testify at his murder trial, the High Court heard during a committal hearing last month. Among them are lawyer Rengarajoo Balasamy, husband of the late Madam Low Foong Meng.

Madam Low's charred body was found in her husband's law firm at Afro Asia Building following the fire that gutted the office.

The purpose of a committal hearing - previously known as a preliminary inquiry - is to establish if there is sufficient evidence to commit an accused facing a capital charge to a full High Court trial. This is also one of the first cases to come before the court for trial since the new Penal Code provisions came into force, giving the court discretion in sentencing for a capital offence.

Dates for the trial, expected to last for more than two weeks, will be fixed in due course.

This development comes after Govindasamy, 66, was charged with the murder of Madam Low, 56, at the office of Rengarajoo & Associates in August 2011.

Madam Low had helped with administrative work at her husband's law firm.

Other witnesses for the trial include Govindasamy's family members, fire and forensic investigators and medical experts.

Also expected to feature at the hearing is closed-circuit television footage before the fire occurred.

The trial is expected to establish the intention of the accused's alleged presence at the scene, the surrounding circumstances leading to the victim's death and how they are linked. It will also determine the sequence of events leading to the tragedy and Gonvindasamy's client-solicitor relationship with Mr Rengarajoo and his wife, among other things.

The accused's fate between a death or life sentence, if found guilty, will hinge on how the relevant evidence is unravelled and interpreted by the court.

Govindasamy is being prosecuted under a section of the law that makes an accused liable for murder if he commits an act that is so dangerous that it will probably cause death and doing so without any excuse for incurring the risk of death through such acts. But the murder charge under such a provision, if sustained, allows the court the discretion to sentence the accused to death or to life imprisonment under the new Penal Code.

Lawyers R. Thrumurgan and B. J. Lean have been hired to defend Govindasamy.

Yesterday, Mr Rengarajoo held memorial prayers for his wife at a temple with their three daughters. He told The Sunday Times that it is now time for the courts to deal with Govindasamy and "let justice prevail".

"Whatever happens to him is not going to make a difference," said Mr Rengarajoo. "What I've lost, I've lost."

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker