Afro Asia Building fire: Lawyer heard wife scream in his burning office

Lawyer Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy arriving at the Supreme Court on Oct 23, 2015.
Lawyer Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy arriving at the Supreme Court on Oct 23, 2015. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When lawyer Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy went to his sixth floor office at the Afro Asia Building just after 10am on Aug 10, 2011, the fire alarm was ringing and a small crowd had gathered outside.

Unable to proceed further into the office due to the thick smoke, he shouted his wife's name twice and heard a scream.

After hearing shouts for him to get out from the crowd he left and called police.

Madam Low Foong Meng's charred body was later found by firefighters.

Her husband's former client, Govindasamy Nallaiah, 70, is on trial for her murder in the High Court.

The prosecution alleges that he went to Mr Rengarajoo's firm and hit Madam Low Foong Meng, 56, on the head with a bicycle chain until she was unconscious.

He then allegedly set alight some files and left Madam Low in the burning office.

Taking the stand on Friday, the fourth day of the trial, Mr Rengarajoo fought tears while taking his oath. He told the court that in 2003, Govindasamy asked him to represent him in a graft trial, and they agreed on a $25,000 fee. Govindasamy was found guilty and jailed.

After his release, Mr Rengarajoo wrote to Govindasamy's two children - who had earlier signed an acknowledgement of the fee - demanding payment of the outstanding money.

As the lawyer did not receive any response, he served a Writ of Summons on them, before following up with a default judgement of $25,000 plus additional costs.

But Mr Rengarajoo was unable to enforce the judgement to recover the debt, as Govindasamy and his children had sold their house and moved out to unknown addresses. The lawyer also found out, sometime in 2004 or 2005, that Govindasamy was bankrupt.

Further efforts to recover the money also failed.

 
 

On Aug 1, 2011, Govindasamy asked the lawyer for time to repay the debt. Govindasamy offered $3,000 up front, but Mr Rengarajoo asked for at least $10,000 with the rest in instalments. The lawyer agreed to give Govindasamy another nine days to come up with the cash.

Soon after, the lawyer found out that Govindasamy was an undischarged bankrupt.

Two days before the deadline, Govindasamy again went to Mr Rengarajoo's law firm, but Mr Rengarajoo told him to leave.

Govindasamy, who was carrying two bags with him, "appeared hesitant to leave and was also deep in thought".

Mr Rengarajoo, who appeared agitated at times, did not look at Govindasamy while he was in court, even though the latter was barely 2m away from him in the dock.

Govindasamy, meanwhile, was seen repeatedly burying his head in his hands.

Earlier on Friday, the court heard that in a statement he gave to police, Govindasamy said he used his taxi's steering wheel lock to hit Madam Foo on the head after she said Mr Rengarajoo would bankrupt his son and daughter if his debt was not cleared by the next day.

Govindasamy then saw his file on a table and used a lighter he found to set it alight.

The trial will continue on Tuesday. Govindasamy is expected to testify in two weeks time.