Afro Asia office fire: Accused owed legal fees to victim's hubby

Govindasamy Nallaiah, 70, allegedly hit his lawyer's wife with a bicycle chain and padlock before setting the office on fire with her inside.
Govindasamy Nallaiah, 70, allegedly hit his lawyer's wife with a bicycle chain and padlock before setting the office on fire with her inside.

A 70-year-old man allegedly hit the wife of his lawyer on the head with a bicycle chain and padlock in a financial dispute - then set fire to his office with her trapped inside, the High Court heard yesterday.

Govindasamy Nallaiah pleaded not guilty to the murder of Madam Low Foong Meng, 56, under a charge which carries a punishment of life imprisonment or death.

The court heard that he owed more than $38,000 in legal fees to Madam Low's husband Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy, for representing him in a 2002 corruption trial.

In July 2011, the lawyer issued a Writ of Seizure and Sale against Govindasamy's son and daughter. Govindasamy tried to settle the dispute with Mr Rengarajoo, who gave him a deadline of Aug 10 that year to make the repayment, failing which he would take legal action against the former's children.

On the morning of the deadline, Govindasamy went to the lawyer's office on the sixth floor of the Afro Asia Building in Robinson Road.

As Mr Rengarajoo had gone to park his car, Govindasamy negotiated the fee dispute with Madam Low. Angry that they could not come to an agreement, the prosecution alleges that Govindasamy took out a bicycle chain and padlock from his rucksack and hit Madam Low on the head several times until she collapsed. Prosecutors claim he then used a lighter to set some files on a table in the office on fire.

When the fire alarm rang, he allegedly fled, leaving Madam Low still motionless inside the burning unit.

He was seen on closed-circuit television camera footage leaving the building at about 10am.

Police and firefighters arrived about 15 minutes later to find flames coming from the office windows. Madam Low's charred body was found after the fire was put out.

The prosecution tendered evidence from 20 witnesses yesterday, including forensic photographers and DNA analysts.

Cleaner Sa'at Tulus said Govindasamy seemed "friendly" when he saw him that fateful morning.

Singapore Civil Defence Force's Major Koh Chee Hian testified that the fire was probably started by a lighter or naked flame.

Forensic pathologist Gilbert Lau and deliveryman Marco Jap are expected to testify in court today .

A total of 59 witnesses will give evidence during the trial, which is expected to last until Nov 20. Mr Rengarajoo and Govindasamy's relatives will also take the stand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Afro Asia office fire: Accused owed legal fees to victim's hubby'. Print Edition | Subscribe