'Cabby abuser' was assaulted first: Witnesses

Arne Corneliussen pleaded guilty earlier this year to hurting Chan Chuan Heng, and has spent six weeks in jail.
Arne Corneliussen pleaded guilty earlier this year to hurting Chan Chuan Heng, and has spent six weeks in jail.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

Two testify during Norwegian man's retrial that the cab driver had been the aggressor

A man who spent six weeks behind bars for allegedly placing his arms around a taxi driver in a stranglehold had actually been assaulted by the cabby, two witnesses yesterday testified at a retrial of the case.

Norwegian Arne Corneliussen, 51, pleaded guilty earlier this year to hurting Chan Chuan Heng, 47, at about 1am on Sept 22 last year at the junction of Circular Road and North Canal Road after a night of drinking. He had scant recollection of the incident.

Yesterday, Mr Mohamed Ayub Shaik Dawood, a Fullerton Hotel valet, and Mr Roslan Zainal, a personal driver, told the court they were waiting for a taxi in the area when they saw Corneliussen and Chan.

Corneliussen, a Singapore permanent resident, said very loudly to Chan: "Why so expensive? You cheat me?"

Chan replied "F*** off ... f*** you" and punched the latter on his head.

Corneliussen squatted on the pavement, with his hands covering his face, while Chan stood arms akimbo over him. Shortly after, Corneliussen stood up and asked Chan: "Why did you hit me?"

Chan did not reply and returned to the driver's seat of his taxi. Corneliussen opened the taxi's left rear door, popped his head inside and shouted: "Why do you want to run?"

 

This led the cabby to step out of the vehicle. But as Corneliussen walked towards him, Chan ran away. He tripped and fell while running but picked himself up and ran, with Corneliussen chasing him.

Shortly after, Corneliussen stopped giving chase and Chan walked back to the taxi.

When Corneliussen saw him, the Norwegian again gave chase and Chan again ran away and fell.

This went on again.

The third time Chan tried to run away, Corneliussen caught up with him when he fell. Corneliussen pinned him down on the ground in a bid to restrain him, said Mr Ayub, 55, and Mr Roslan, 45. But three men later pulled Corneliussen off Chan and the Norwegian walked away.

In April, Corneliussen was sentenced to 10 weeks' jail for causing hurt to Chan. A district court judge agreed with the prosecution that Corneliussen's assault on a public transport worker was "sustained and brutish". A charge of slapping the cabby on his cheek was taken into consideration during sentencing.

Corneliussen, who paid Chan $30,000 in compensation, lost his job as a programme management director with DHL.

After he was convicted and sentenced, however, Mr Ayub and Mr Roslan sought out his lawyer, Mr Terence Seah, after reading a newspaper report on the case. They said they had seen the altercation and that Chan was the actual aggressor.

They then filed affidavits on their account of what happened.

In May, the High court quashed Corneliussen's conviction and sentence, and sent the case back to the State Courts for a retrial. He was released on $5,000 bail.

Earlier yesterday, two passers-by who had pulled Corneliussen away from Chan and told police they saw the Norwegian chasing the taxi driver and choking him, also testified.

Senior operations supervisor Muhd Fairuz Jumahat, 29, and taxi driver Choithramani Chandru Bhaqwandas, 46, said the Norwegian reeked of alcohol and had a strong chokehold grip on Chan.

Chan has since also been charged with causing hurt and lying to police that Corneliussen slapped him.

The penalty for causing hurt is jail of up to two years and/or a fine of up to $5,000. The penalty for giving false information to the police is jail of up to one year and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2015, with the headline ''Cabby abuser' was assaulted first: Witnesses'. Print Edition | Subscribe