SINGAPORE - The police had stated the criminal record of the driver who filmed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's son after picking him up because it was in public interest to give a fuller explanation and background as to why they were investigating the matter, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said on Monday (April 1).
A 31-year-old Singaporean man had offered PM Lee's son, Mr Li Yipeng, a ride in a private car last month and circulated videos from the encounter.
The man's past criminal records then emerged on March 17, after police said in statements to the media that they were investigating the case and that the man had earlier been convicted of taking a vehicle without the owner's consent. An offence of driving without insurance was taken into consideration during sentencing in 2014.
It also emerged that the man had been involved in a theft-in-dwelling case and was given a warning by the police, and that a police report was lodged against him for criminal intimidation.
Mr Shanmugam said in a written parliamentary reply to Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) that he had directed the police to state the man's record without disclosing his name.
"If the police did not set out their security concerns, the public may not grasp why the police were investigating the matter, and may even misunderstand the police's actions," he said. "It was important to provide the public relevant and specific facts, in order to maintain public confidence in the police force."
Ms Lim had asked if the authorities had divulged the criminal history and out-of-court records of the man. The police confirmed these investigations when asked by the media, Mr Shanmugam replied.
In the videos of the incident circulated online, the driver was heard asking Mr Li repeatedly to confirm his identity, home address and security arrangements. Mr Li, 36, is the second of PM Lee's four children.
Mr Shanmugam said on Monday that it was public knowledge that Mr Li had Asperger's syndrome, which results in difficulties in social interaction and in non-verbal communication. This was compounded by Mr Li's albinism, which results in him having very poor eyesight.
"Leaving aside Mr Li's background, it is very troubling when an individual picks up any vulnerable person, whether adult or child, and puts that person in such a situation," said Mr Shanmugam.
"The man put Mr Li in an uncomfortable situation, apparently exploited the situation, filmed it, and then circulated it."
On rules and guidelines about what information can be published, Mr Shanmugam said police decisions on what to disclose are guided by existing legal requirements.
He noted that public agencies will sometimes need to release information faster than previously needed due to the proliferation of social media. "It may not always be possible in all cases to wait for a trial to commence or be concluded, a process which may take weeks or months, before releasing relevant facts to the public," he said.
The police will be careful not to prejudice any investigations or legal proceedings that may follow when they deem it necessary to release information earlier, he added.