Driver was actual aggressor, says 'cabby abuser' at retrial

Arne Corneliussen.
Arne Corneliussen.ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Chan Chuan Heng.
Chan Chuan Heng.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

A man accused of causing hurt to a taxi driver said at a retrial yesterday that the cabby had been the actual aggressor, when he punched him in the face and left him "seeing stars" after a row about whether to use his meter.

Norwegian Arne Corneliussen, 51, said Chan Chuan Heng, 47, tried to charge him a flat rate of $45 to take him from Boat Quay to his Upper East Coast home in the early hours of Sept 22 last year.

When a row erupted, Corneliussen, who is a Singapore permanent resident, said he threatened to report the driver.

"I was insisting to go on a meter, but he refused," he testified on the second day of his retrial, after his conviction and 10-week sentence were quashed in May. "He's a public taxi (driver), he's not a limousine (driver); he got upset and said he's going to go, and I said I'm going to report him."

Then, Corneliussen said, "everything went black and I basically saw stars and I had no idea what happened".

He found himself on the pavement with blood on his face.

On Monday, witnesses said Corneliussen had chased Chan several times, but he told the court he could not remember doing so. However, he remembered that three to four people were behaving aggressively towards him later, with one man telling him: "You're going to leave Singapore in a coffin."

On Monday, witnesses said Corneliussen had chased Chan several times, but he told the court he could not remember doing so. However, he remembered that three to four people were behaving aggressively towards him later, with one man telling him: "You're going to leave Singapore in a coffin."

Feeling unsafe, he walked away and went home. But his wife called the police when he told her that he had been attacked.

He was later taken to hospital, and found with bruising at the corner of an eye, as well as a possible bone fracture near his wrist. He was given painkillers.

In December last year, he was charged with hurting Chan. The police had witness statements that supported the taxi driver's account that Corneliussen had chased him and placed him in a choke hold.

With scant recollection of the incident, the Norwegian pleaded guilty earlier this year to using one arm to strangle Chan.

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

Corneliussen, who paid Chan $30,000 in compensation, lost his job as a programme management director with DHL shortly after being charged. He is still unemployed.

After spending 51/2 weeks in jail, however, two witnesses who read a newspaper report on the case made a police report and sought out his lawyer Terence Seah. They said they saw the scuffle, and that Chan was the actual aggressor.

In May, the High Court sent the case back to the State Courts for a retrial. Corneliussen was released on $5,000 bail.

His charge was also amended to causing hurt by wrapping his arm around Chan's neck.

Chan has since been charged with causing hurt and lying to the police by saying that Corneliussen slapped him. His case is before the courts.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Seah told the court that there was no hurt caused to Chan's neck and that he never made any medical complaints about it. There was also uncertainty about whether Corneliussen had wrapped an arm around Chan's neck, given the differing witness testimonies.

Corneliussen was also justified in using reasonable means to detain Chan, who was running away after assaulting him, the lawyer added.

And he did not punch or attack the driver in retaliation, even though he was provoked by a punch to the head, Mr Seah said.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim is expected to deliver the verdict on Feb 12 next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 30, 2015, with the headline 'Driver was actual aggressor, says 'cabby abuser' at retrial'. Print Edition | Subscribe