SINGAPORE - Recent allegations of suspects in the Orchard Towers murder case getting preferential treatment because of their race are "totally baseless and highly irresponsible", said Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
He stressed in Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 4) that everyone in Singapore is treated fairly and equally by the law.
Dr Faishal's remarks come two days after police said it will investigate two women, aged 28 and 36, for contempt of court over social media posts they made alleging preferential treatment based on the race of suspects involved in the death of Mr Satheesh Noel Gobidass on July 2 last year.
Mr Satheesh, 31, died after being embroiled in a brawl at Orchard Towers.
Seven people were involved in the incident, but after investigations, the AGC found that six of them were not involved in causing Mr Satheesh's death, leading to the charges against them being reduced.
One of the six, Mr Chan Jia Xing, was given a 12-month conditional warning after his charge was reduced to consorting with a person carrying an offensive weapon in a public place.
The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said the crime Mr Chan was charged with took into account his involvement, how he tried to stop the attack and his cooperation with police investigations.
The seventh person, Tan Sen Yang, is the only one now facing a murder charge.
Setting out the process for handling capital offences such as murder and kidnapping, Dr Faishal told the House that where there are multiple suspects allegedly involved in the same capital case, the same holding charge may be made against all of them initially in court.
The accused persons will be held in remand while further investigations are conducted, and law enforcement agencies will make recommendations to the AGC.
Prosecutors will then review the evidence and circumstances of the case, and consider the specific role of each suspect before deciding on an appropriate course of action.
"This can be to proceed with the capital charge, apply a lesser charge or charges, or to withdraw the charge," said Dr Faishal in response to Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC).
He told the House that the eventual position against each accused person may thus differ, as it will be based on the evidence available and their role in the case.
He also cited previous examples of such a reduction in charges in multiple accused persons, including the Downtown East murder in 2010 and the Pandan Loop murder in 2014.
In the Downtown East case, the 12 suspects were initially charged with murder. Some of them had armed themselves to attack the victim, 20-year-old student Darren Ng.
But after considering the evidence and their roles in the crime, the prosecution amended the charges for those who had known there would be a fight but were unaware of others who were armed to rioting.
Those who had known there would be a fight and were armed had their charges reduced to rioting with a deadly weapon, while those armed who actively attacked the victim were charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Each group received sentences in accordance with the severity of their involvement in the crime.
No one gets any special treatment in Singapore's law system, Dr Faishal reiterated.
"I assure the house that our criminal justice system does not give any preferential treatment, based on race, religion, socio-economic status or educational achievements, and so on," he added.