Afro Asia Building murder trial

Accused, victim's hubby were 'childhood friends'

Govindasamy Nallaiah (centre) was taken back to the scene of the murder on Aug 17, 2011.
Govindasamy Nallaiah (centre) was taken back to the scene of the murder on Aug 17, 2011. PHOTO: SHIN MIN

When Govindasamy Nallaiah, 70, was facing a corruption charge in 2002, he turned to childhood friend and lawyer Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy. They had known each other since they were 15 .

Now, Govindasamy is facing a charge of murdering Mr Rengarajoo's wife over an unpaid legal fee. He took the stand yesterday - the sixth day of the murder trial - to reveal details of his relationship with the lawyer.

"We had been friends from childhood and he also has police experience... He said that he could win this case," he said, referring to the 2002 graft case. His friend quoted a $25,000 fee, and Govindasamy agreed. He paid a $5,000 deposit over a few instalments, he said.

But the case was lost and he was sentenced to five months' jail.

In 2005, Govindasamy told Mr Rengarajoo the legal fee was too high and wanted it reduced. "I told him I had no income; I was driving a taxi, my wife was in a wheelchair." But the lawyer said "no".

In July 2011, he offered to pay Mr Rengarajoo $5,000 upfront, with the remainder of his debt, which was $38,000 by that time due to additional costs and interest, in $1,000 instalments. The lawyer, he said, asked for $15,000 upfront and monthly instalments of $2,000.

On Aug 10, 2011, the day his debt was due, Govindasamy went to the lawyer's firm at the Afro Asia Building. The lawyer's wife, Madam Low Foong Meng, was the only one there. He pleaded with her for more time. But he told the court he got angry when she replied that his children would be made bankrupt if he did not pay up. He hit her with a bicycle chain and padlock.

He then found his file and tried to burn it with a lighter. That did not work so he set fire to a towel and placed it on the file. He fled when the fire spread and the alarm rang. Asked by defence lawyer R. Thrumurgan what he thought would happen after he left, he said he expected sprinklers to activate and that security guards would save Madam Low, who died from her burns and smoke inhalation.

Yesterday, forensic pathologist Gilbert Lau maintained that the three cuts he found on Madam Low's body were caused by a knife or a cleaver. Govindasamy insisted that he did not use any other weapon.The trial continues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2015, with the headline 'Accused, victim's hubby were 'childhood friends''. Print Edition | Subscribe