Afro Asia Building murder trial

Accused 'went wild' when he was snubbed

He told police he hit victim after she rejected his plea for more time to repay debt and set fire to his case file

Govindasamy told ASP Jason Lim (above) that he threw the clothing he wore to the office and the bicycle chain and padlock he used into the Whampoa River.
Govindasamy told ASP Jason Lim (above) that he threw the clothing he wore to the office and the bicycle chain and padlock he used into the Whampoa River.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

On the day his nine-year-old unpaid legal fees were due, Govindasamy Nallaiah went to his former lawyer's office and pleaded with his wife for more time to repay a $38,000 debt he owed him.

But Madam Low Foong Meng told him to "get lost", saying that bankruptcy action would be taken against his two civil servant children, whose signatures he had forged as guarantors for the fees.

The High Court heard yesterday how Govindasamy, 70, told police at the time that his mind went "wild" on hearing this, before he took a bicycle chain and padlock from his bag, and struck the 56-year-old hard on top of her head. She took a step back and shouted for help - but Govindasamy hit her head again, causing her to fall backwards.

When she shouted for help again, Govindasamy swung the chain and padlock at her head again, rendering her unconscious on the floor.

"I had lost control of myself and I was not certain if I continued hitting her," Govindasamy, then a taxi driver, told Assistant Police Superintendent (ASP) Jason Lim Yeow Leong, the investigation officer.

Police statements read in court gave Govindasamy's version of how he had left Madam Low in her husband's office on the sixth floor of the Afro Asia Building after setting it on fire on Aug 10, 2011.

ASP Lim testified as the last prosecution witness on the fifth day of Govindasamy's murder trial.

The court heard that after Madam Low was knocked out, Govindasamy said he found his file in the office, then picked up a lighter from a coffee table, set alight a towel he had in his bag and placed it on the document.

He fled shortly after, when the fire spread and the fire alarm rang.

Govindasamy told police that he then drove his taxi to Bendemeer Road to buy a pair of sandals and a T-shirt. After changing into new attire, he threw the clothes he had on earlier into the Whampoa River, along with the chain and padlock.

"I wanted to clear my mind of the incident," Govindasamy told ASP Lim, through a Tamil interpreter. "I did not want the clothing I wore at the lawyer's office to remind me of what happened."

He then rested in his taxi at West Coast Park until evening, skipping lunch as he did not have an appetite. "A lot of thoughts came to my mind and I was worried about being arrested for what I did," he said.

He later went to his Jurong West home to shower and change before driving to Boon Lay to throw his second set of clothing into a dustbin, afraid that it may be "contaminated" with bloodstains. As he watched the Tamil news on television, he learnt that Madam Low was his lawyer's wife and that she had perished in the fire. He was arrested at home later that night.

The court also heard that Govindasamy, a former senior Customs officer, was charged with graft in August 2002, five months before he was due to retire. He had hired Madam Low's husband, Mr Rengarajoo Rengasamy Balasamy, to represent him but was later convicted and jailed for five months.

As a result, he lost a gratuity sum of $250,000 and a monthly pension of around $1,300. In 2006, he sold his Casuarina Road terraced house for $525,000 - $225,000 less than what he paid for it around 1997.

The court also heard that Govindasamy visited Mr Rengarajoo's firm on Aug 8 and July 27, 2011, to negotiate the debt repayment.

On his last visit before the fire, Govindasamy said Madam Low "told me not to waste their time", while on his earlier visit, Mr Rengarajoo told him that he was "cheating" the lawyer, who did not believe he had made a loss selling his home. "I felt hurt when he did not understand my plight," he said.

The trial continues next Tuesday with the cross-examination of forensic pathologist Gilbert Lau. Govindasamy is expected to testify thereafter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2015, with the headline 'Accused 'went wild' when he was snubbed Afro Asia Building murder trial'. Subscribe