SINGAPORE - The trial of Govindasamy Nallaiah for the alleged murder of his former lawyer's wife, Madam Low Foong Meng, four years ago began in the High Court on Tuesday (Oct 20) morning.
After the murder charge under Section 300 (d) of the Penal Code was read out to him, Govindasamy, 70, pleaded not guilty and informed the court through a Tamil interpreter that he was claiming trial.
The Section of the Penal Code under which he is charged states that he committed an act knowing that it would probably cause death, or bodily injuring likely to cause death.
He faces the death penalty, or life imprisonment, if convicted by Judicial Commissioner Hoo Sheau Peng.
The prosecution's case is that Govindasamy murdered Madam Low, 56, sometime between 9.48am and 11.54am on August 10, 2011, in the office of her husband's law firm Rengarajoo & Associates, located on the sixth floor of the Afro Asia Building in 63 Robinson Road.
The court heard that Govindasamy owed legal fees to Madam Low's husband, lawyer Rengajaroo Balasamy, for representing him in a corruption trial in 2002. The amount of outstanding legal fees, including interest, as of July 2011 was $38,000.
That month, the lawyer issued a Writ of Seizure and Sale against Govindasamy's son and daughter, who had executed an acknowledgement of debt for the outstanding fees.
Between July and August 2011, Govindasamy tried to settle the fee dispute with Mr Rengarajoo, who gave him a deadline of August 10 to make the repayment, failing which he would take legal action against the latter's children.
On the morning of Aug 10, Govindasamy went to Mr Rengarajoo's office and waited for over an hour for its doors to open.
He entered the office between 9.48am and 9.55am, and negotiated with Madam Low over the fee dispute.
Angry that they could not come to an agreement, the prosecution alleges that Govindasamy took out a bicycle chain and padlock from his black haversack, and hit Madam Low several times on the head until she collapsed onto the floor.
Shortly after, a deliveryman entered the office to deliver a parcel. But Govindasamy purportedly told him that no one was in and to return later.
Govindasamy then allegedly used a lighter to set some files on a table in the office on fire, and watched it spread.
When the fire alarm rang, he purportedly packed the bicycle chain into his haversack and left the office, with Madam Low still motionless inside the burning unit.
Govindasamy was captured leaving the building on CCTV footage at about 9.57am.
The police were called at about 10am, and when they arrived at about 10.13am, flames from the windows of the office could be seen from the ground floor of the building.
Madam Low's charred body was found after the fire was put out.
The prosecution will present evidence from 59 witnesses over the course of the trial, including from a forensic pathologist who will testify that Madam Low suffered head injuries which could have rendered her unconscious. She also sustained defensive injuries on her arms. The cause of death was a combination of inhalation of fire fumes and extensive severe burns.
Among other witnesses who will be called to the stand are fire and forensic investigators, medical experts, Mr Rengarajoo, and Govindasamy's family members.
The trial continues on Wednesday.