Ex-maid acquitted of stealing from CAG chairman: Something has gone wrong and has to be set right, says Shanmugam on handling of case

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam cautioned against prejudging what part of the process had gone wrong in the case of former domestic worker Parti Liyani. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - The authorities take very seriously the judge's comments on the case of former domestic worker Parti Liyani - who was acquitted of stealing from Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family - and will deal with what had gone wrong in the process, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

"Something has gone wrong in the chain of events. We have to look at that, and deal with what went wrong," said the minister on Tuesday (Sept 8).

"In the process, we should not be defensive. It should not be a witch hunt. It's got to be a fair process. We have to find out what happened, why it happened and then deal with it. And be accountable," he added.

"That's the best way to build trust (with the) public, and in the system. To come out in public and say what steps we have taken once the reviews are done," said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking to reporters virtually on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

He was asked for his comments on the case, which had sparked a public outcry.

Ms Parti, 46, who was working for the Liew family from 2007 to 2016, was accused of stealing more than $34,000 worth of items from them. After a trial in the State Courts, she was found guilty on four counts of theft and sentenced to two years and two months jail in March last year.

She appealed to the High Court against her conviction and sentence, and was acquitted last Friday.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC), police and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) have said they are reviewing the judgment to see whether further action has to be taken as a result of the judgment.

On Tuesday, the minister cautioned against prejudging what part of the process had gone wrong. "That's why reviews are being conducted. We should wait for the outcome," he said.

The case also led to some questioning whether the class and status differences between Ms Parti and the Liews had contributed to unfairness in the way the case was handled.

Asked about this, Mr Shanmugam said it is good to see justice delivered, based on the High Court's judgment. However, he stressed that the justice system is impartial to all and fair, and the status and position of the parties involved does not matter.

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"(Ms Parti) was charged in a criminal case based on a complaint by the business person. The judge's judgment goes through the facts very carefully. It sets out what the break in the chain of evidence is, and in that way, it is good to see that justice is both blind and that justice has been delivered."

He also commended Ms Parti's lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandani, who acted pro bono.

Though he has not read Mr Balchandani's submissions, the minister said he was told that Mr Balchandani had picked up on various inconsistencies in the evidence and why his client ought not to be convicted.

"He did a thorough and good job of it. That's a lawyer's job. To be thorough, to be clear, to put forward everything fairly to the court," said Mr Shanmugam. "Based on what I've heard, I think he ought to be commended."

Justice Chan Seng Onn, in his 100-page judgement on the case, found the trial judge's conviction against Ms Parti to be "unsafe".

He cited the handling of the evidence by the police, the recording of the allegedly stolen items and the improper motive behind the allegations of some family members.

The AGC said on Sunday that it would study Justice Chan's judgment to assess what further action, if any, ought to be taken in this case. Justice Chan found that Ms Parti had expressed unhappiness at being made to do the additional work of cleaning the house and office of Mr Liew's son Karl some time before her termination.

"There is reason to believe that the Liew family, upon realising her unhappiness, took the pre-emptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly without giving her sufficient time for her to pack, in the hope that Parti would not use the time to make a complaint to MOM," he said.

The police also said they would be looking into several observations on police investigations made by Justice Chan.

While police did not elaborate on what these observations were, the judge had found that there was a break in the chain of custody of evidence. This created a reasonable doubt as to whether some of the allegedly stolen items discovered by the family were accurately documented by the photographs taken by the police some five weeks later.

During this period, the family were also told by the police that they were free to use the items. They took and put back items into the boxes, but it was not clear if the items that were put back were the same ones removed earlier.

Justice Chan also found that two statements were taken from Ms Parti without an interpreter.

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