Ionescu sentenced to three years' jail

But he will not go to jail immediately as his lawyer said he will appeal

This article was first published on March 28, 2013

BUCHAREST - A Bucharest court has found a former Romanian diplomat guilty of a deadly 2009 hit- and-run accident in Singapore and sentenced him to three years in prison, less than half the maximum penalty.

The verdict against Silviu Ionescu, 51, who was Romania's charge d'affaires in Singapore at the time, finally came down late yesterday after a trial that started back in October 2010.

In Singapore, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Singapore welcomes the verdict delivered by the Bucharest Sector 3 Court, which sentenced former Romanian chargé d'affaires in Singapore, Dr Silviu Ionescu, to three years in jail after a trial lasting two years and eight months. Dr Ionescu was found guilty of the charges of manslaughter, negligent bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident."

The accident, which fuelled widespread public outrage in Singapore, killed one man and injured two others.

Mr Tong Kok Wai, 30, a Malaysian, died from his injuries 10 days after being struck by the car belonging to the Romanian mission on Dec 15, 2009.

His Indonesian widow, Madam Yenny Young, 34, said: "Good to know it has come to a close. I hope Kok Wai's family can also move on in peace. Life goes on no matter how hurtful it was."

Another Malaysian, Mr Bong Hwee Haw, now 28, and Singaporean Muhammad Haris Abu Talib, now a 22-year-old polytechnic student, were seriously injured.

The court sentenced Ionescu to three years each for manslaughter and fleeing the scene, and eight months for causing injury. Each of the charges could have put him behind bars for up to a maximum of seven years. He was cleared of making false statements.

The sentences are to run concurrently, meaning he will spend three years in prison.

Even so, he will not go to jail immediately. In Romania, a convict is not imprisoned until the sentence has been upheld on appeal. Ionescu's lawyer said he will file an appeal.

The ex-diplomat, who fled Singapore shortly after the accident, was not in court for the sentencing. He continued to maintain his innocence, alleging that he was framed by the Singapore authorities because of critical reports about them that he sent to the Romanian foreign ministry.

"I am disappointed, not for myself but for Romania and Romanian justice, seeing that a sentence can be handed in the absence of any evidence whatsoever," he said by phone.

"The sentence does not affect me, even if it is upheld on appeal, because I have reconciled myself to the idea (of going to prison). I have already been detained."

In Singapore, the verdict was received with mixed reactions.

Mr Haris said he was disappointed that Ionescu was not given a longer prison term, and added that he should have also been made to compensate the victims.

Ionescu will have to pay only 38,000 Romanian leu (about S$13,700) as judicial expenses.

Mr Haris suffered torn ligaments in both ankles and had to give up sports. At the time of the accident, he was just 18 and slated to join the national rowing team, but the accident snuffed out that dream.

"I took it as a blessing in disguise," he said. "Because of the accident, I couldn't do sports, and discovered photography instead."

In January, Mr Haris won third prize in a sports photography competition.

The third victim, former croupier Bong Hwee Haw, was severely injured in the crash and has since returned home to Malaysia, said his lawyer N. Srinivasan.

Mr Srinivasan said he was not in touch with his client, but would try to contact him to tell him the "good news".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Additional reporting by Jalelah Abu Baker and Lim Yi Han