SINGAPORE – Fugitive lawyer Charles Yeo, who absconded four months ago, appeared in a High Court hearing on Tuesday via video call.
Yeo, 32, was convicted of contempt of court by scandalising the judiciary in two Instagram stories he posted on March 14, in which he aired grievances over his dispute with fellow lawyer Joseph Chen.
During the Zoom hearing, Yeo said he was “currently under the protection of the UK government” and that he was in a “decent hotel room”. No mention was made of the outstanding warrant of arrest issued against him on Aug 3 by a district judge.
Yeo, the former chairman of the Reform Party, faces multiple charges for harassing a police officer and wounding the religious feelings of Christians in his social media posts.
He was given permission to travel to Vietnam between July 27 and July 30 to meet a witness for a case he was handling at the time.
Yeo was offered bail, with his mother acting as the bailor. But on Aug 1, he failed to turn up in court to represent his client.
In a post on his Instagram account, Yeo stated that he intended to seek political asylum in Britain.
The full bail amount of $15,000 was forfeited on Sept 14.
In the current case, the Attorney-General was granted permission by the High Court on May 10 to proceed with contempt proceedings against Yeo, and served the relevant papers on him on May 17. The Attorney-General asked for Yeo to be punished for contempt, contending that the Instagram stories impugn the integrity and impartiality of the Singapore courts, and pose a risk that public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore would be undermined.
In one story, which consisted of text against a grey background, Yeo said he was not surprised that Mr Chen – whom he described as a “PAP agent” – kept on “winning in the courts”.
Deputy Senior State Counsel Ng Yiwen said this implied that the courts had decided cases in favour of Mr Chen regardless of their legal merits because he was allegedly associated with the People’s Action Party.
In the second story, Yeo said Mr Chen has not suffered any punishment despite his “incessant harassment of me”.
He said that Mr Chen, whom he called a “state agent”, was being “shielded” by the justice system.
Mr Ng said this implied Mr Chen was being protected by the courts despite having committed “incessant harassment”. “Read together, the stories convey the assertion that the courts lack integrity and act improperly and with partiality in the discharge of their judicial duties,” said Mr Ng.
Yeo argued that he did not have the intention to post the stories.
For the first story, he said he had typed the word “courts” when he meant to type “disciplinary system”. He said the “system” in the second story referred to his complaints against Mr Chen being dismissed by law enforcement agencies and disciplinary bodies.
During the hearing, Justice Valerie Thean repeatedly told him that as a lawyer, he should know that the proper procedure was to file an affidavit if he wanted these to be taken into account.
Yeo maintained that he has elected not to do so.
After he was convicted, Yeo sought a fine, citing the case of activist Jolovan Wham, who was fined $5,000.
The case was adjourned to Jan 20 for sentencing.