Singapore Maid Case Wasn’t Biased in Favor of Rich Employer, Minister Says

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The 2019 conviction of an immigrant domestic helper for stealing wasn’t improperly biased in favor of her rich and powerful employer, Singapore Law Minister K Shanmugam said in an address to Parliament Wednesday.

Parti Liyani, the Indonesian worker, has since been acquitted, casting a spotlight on the social divide between the rich and poor and raising questions about the fairness of the legal system. In response, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police and manpower ministry agreed to review the case.

The review found breaches of protocol, but it didn’t point to bias or influence in favor of her boss, Shanmugam told Parliament.

“There was nothing improper nor any undue pressure on the police or the Attorney-General’s Chambers at any stage of these investigations and proceedings,” said Shanmugam, who is also the Home Affairs Minister.

“The credibility of our system, the foundation of our society depends on us ensuring that there is rule of law, that the law applies equally to all. If that principle is compromised, then Singapore is compromised.”

Liew Mun Leong, the former chairman of Changi Airport Group, had told police that Parti had stolen S$34,000 ($24,830) from the household, and she was found guilty and sentenced to more than two years in jail. In September, the high court found the Liew family had levied its allegations in an attempt to keep Parti from complaining about illegal violations of her work contract and cleared her of all charges.

Following public outcry, Liew resigned from his role at the award-winning airport as well as chairmanship of Surbana Jurong, a government-linked infrastructure and services company. He also stepped down from positions at state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte.

Though the weeks-long internal review didn’t find undue influence or pressure in favor of Liew, there were several protocol breaches, Shanmugam said. For instance, investigators took five weeks after the police report was filed to seize some items involved in the theft. There also wasn’t any proper photography of the evidence soon after the police report was filed.

Internal investigations are being carried out to look into the conduct of police officers involved in the case and action will be taken as necessary, Shanmugam said.

Liew Mun Leong’s son, Karl Liew, who had testified in the trial, has also been investigated for criminal offences, including lying on oath, Shanmugam said. This comes after the high court found inconsistencies in Karl Liew’s testimony. Among his claims, Karl Liew said he likes to cross-dress when questioned why he owned women’s clothing after claiming that those items found in Parti’s possession belonged to him.

Karl Liew will be charged with providing false information and giving false evidence, the police said in a statement.

Guarding against elites

Representing the opposition Workers’ Party, one of its lawmakers Sylvia Lim said the party suggests the formation of a constitutional commission to review the justice system and tackle its shortcomings. “The Workers’ Party is more concerned about the issues the case represents. How far does our system of justice put everyone on equal footing whether CEO or domestic worker,” Lim said.

“Have there been domestic helpers, work permit holders and even poorer families who believe that they were innocent but have pled guilty to charges because they did not know their rights or could not afford to fight their cases?” Lim said.

In his speech, Shanmugam said Singapore isn’t grappling with a situation where the elites are creaming off economic benefits, bending rules and gaming systems. Nonetheless, it has to guard against the wealthy and the powerful taking unfair advantages, he added.

“If a significant section of our people feel that the system favors some or that it is unfairly stacked against them, then Singapore will lose its cohesion and it can’t succeed,” Shanmugam said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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