SINGAPORE - A former domestic worker has been cleared by the High Court of stealing more than $34,000 worth of items from Changi Airport Group (CAG) chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family.
Miss Parti Liyani, who worked for the family from 2007 to 2016, had appealed to the High Court against her conviction and sentence of two years and two months' jail.
Her lawyer, Mr Anil Balchandani, who acted pro bono, had argued at her appeal that she was being framed to prevent her from lodging a complaint against the family for illegal deployment.
Mr Balchandani said that besides working at the family home, Miss Parti, who is Indonesian, was also told to clean the office and home of Mr Liew's son Karl.
On Friday (Sept 4), Justice Chan Seng Onn allowed her appeal and overturned her conviction on four theft charges.
He found that there was an "improper motive" on the part of Mr Liew and his son to prevent her from complaining to the authorities.
However, the judge said that the defence's specific allegation that there was collusion by all the members of the Liew family cannot stand.
This was because the defence had not cross-examined all the witnesses on the alleged collusion and had not cross-examined Mr Karl Liew's wife, Heather, and sister, Cheng May, on their motives.
The court heard that in October 2016, the older Mr Liew, who was then overseas, decided to sack Miss Parti.
On Oct 28, 2016, Mr Karl Liew told Miss Parti that her employment was terminated and gave her two hours to pack.
While she was packing items into three jumbo boxes, she uttered a threat to lodge a complaint with the Manpower Ministry.
She returned to Indonesia that day, after asking Mr Karl Liew to pay for the boxes to be shipped to her.
The next day, the family opened the boxes and spent two hours checking the contents. A 21-second video was recorded of the items that were taken out.
They found items that allegedly belonged to members of the household and a police report was made on Oct 30, after Mr Liew returned to Singapore.
However, it was five weeks later, on Dec 3, that the police attended to the scene. It was the day after Miss Parti returned to Singapore and she was arrested.
In her defence, Miss Parti argued that the alleged stolen items were either her belongings, discarded objects that she found, or things that she had not packed into the boxes.
In his 100-page judgment, Justice Chan found that there was a break in the chain of custody of evidence.
This creates a reasonable doubt as to whether some of the allegedly stolen items discovered by the family on Oct 29 were accurately documented by the photographs taken by the police some five weeks later.
During this period, the family was told by the police that they were free to use the items.
They took and put back items into the boxes but it is not clear if the items put back were the same ones that were removed earlier, creating a real possibility of a mix up, said the judge.
Justice Chan also found that two statements were taken from Miss Parti without an interpreter and there was reasonable doubt about the accuracy of the translation.
The judge also had serious doubts about Mr Karl Liew's credibility, finding his testimony to be "highly suspect".
Mr Karl Liew said during the trial that various items of female clothing, allegedly stolen by Miss Parti, belonged to him and that he sometimes wore women's T-shirts.
Mr Karl Liew claimed a damaged Gerald Genta watch was valued at $25,000 despite the fact that the strap was broken and had a missing button-knob.
He said it had sentimental value because his father gave it to him but the older man said it was just another watch he had given to his son.
Justice Chan added that many of the items alleged to be stolen were old, dysfunctional and low in value.
This reinforced Miss Parti's defence that she had in fact found these items in the trash.
The items included the Gerald Genta watch, a Pioneer DVD player, two iPhones, a Prada bag with frayed edges and a pair of Gucci sunglasses with red stains.
Mr Balchandani told the court that he would be making an application for compensation to be paid to Miss Parti, who has not worked for the past four years.
After the verdict, she sobbed and hugged her lawyer and staff from the migrant workers group, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics.
She told reporters: "I'm so glad that I'm finally free. I've been fighting for four years now and I have been strong all this while."