Jail term tripled for boss who confined maid

Jobless woman gets 24 weeks' jail instead of two months after appeal by prosecution

Chua Siew Peng had slapped her maid and kept the Filipina locked in her sister's Bukit Timah condo.
Chua Siew Peng had slapped her maid and kept the Filipina locked in her sister's Bukit Timah condo.

The first employer in Singapore to be convicted for wrongfully confining a maid yesterday had her original two-month jail term tripled to 24 weeks by the High Court.

This came after an appeal by prosecutors for a heavier sentence for Chua Siew Peng, 45, a jobless woman who slapped her maid and kept the Filipina locked in her sister's Bukit Timah condominium.

At the time of the offences in 2012, Chua was living at her sister's sixth-floor Maplewoods apartment with their mother and her sister's family. On Oct 30, 2012, the maid employed by Chua, Ms Jonna Memeje Muegue, now 28, escaped the apartment by climbing out of a window. She fractured her feet when she landed on a roof one floor below.

Ms Muegue, who worked for the family for 11 months, said she ran away because she could no longer tolerate the physical abuse from Chua, her sister Kathleen Chua Siew Wei, and their mother Lum Wai Lui, whom she knew as Popo, the Chinese word for "grandmother".

The night before, Lum, now 76, had punished Ms Muegue for eating salmon not meant for her. She punched and slapped the maid, slammed her head against the wall, and poured bleach on her. Chua joined in, pulling the maid's hair and slapping her repeatedly. In February last year, Lum, a retired radiographer and medicine technician, was given 21 months' probation.

Kathleen Chua, who faced separate proceedings for slapping the maid in another incident, was initially acquitted. But her case was sent back for retrial though the current status is unclear.

In May last year, Chua was sentenced to a total of two months' jail for one count of wrongful confinement and one count of causing hurt to the maid. She appealed against her conviction and sentence. The prosecution cross-appealed, arguing for a heavier sentence for the wrongful confinement charge.

During the appeal hearing in February, Deputy Public Prosecutor Zhuo Wenzhao said Ms Muegue was confined for an extremely lengthy period of 11 months.

He argued that the maid was deliberately cut off from the outside world: not given days off, deprived of a SIM card for her mobile phone, and barred from talking to others.

Chua's lawyer, Mr Quek Mong Hua, argued that the maid knew a set of keys was left in the living room though she did not have her own.

Yesterday, Justice Chan Seng Onn dismissed Chua's appeal and allowed the prosecution's appeal.

He increased Chua's jail term for wrongful confinement from two months to 21 weeks. This was ordered to run consecutively with her three-week term for causing hurt, making a total of 24 weeks.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2017, with the headline Jail term tripled for boss who confined maid. Subscribe