The trial of Parti Liyani rocked Singapore and brought down Liew Mun Leong, one of Singapore’s most powerful businessmen. She had been accused of stealing from members of the Liew family, and a first trial convicted her. This sentence was then overturned in the High Court. Serious questions were raised in the High Court judgement about the police handling of the investigation and the conduct of the first trial.
Dr Stephanie Chok, a H.O.M.E. volunteer who has been part of the team supporting Parti Liyani from the beginning of her ordeal, gives PJ Thum an inside view on the case, the possible mishandling of the investigation by the police, the problems with the trial, and how this is not an isolated incident but related to broader structural issues plaguing Singapore.
You can find the article about Parti Liyani’s case on HOME’s website by clicking here.
To donate to HOME, go to www.home.org.sg/donate.
Hello, and welcome back to Political Agenda and at the end of a very long and interesting week for New Naratif, we have yet another really, really good podcast for all of you. We welcome today to the show, Stephanie Chok.
Stephanie Chok (00:00:15):
PJ Thum (00:00:15):
Dr. Stephanie Chok, sorry, I should, I should specify your PhD.
Stephanie Chok (00:00:19):
It’s okay, Stephanie Chok is fine.
No, no it’s important, you earned it… Who will be talking to us today about the Parti Liyani case and even though lots is happening to New Naratif, we can’t lose sight of the fact that New Naratif is here to be a platform to tell stories that may not be carried in other media outlets and to tell stories about the marginalised to give a platform to people whose stories might not otherwise be told. And so I’m very, very excited and very glad to have Stephii here today to talk about Ibu Yani. So welcome, Stephanie.
Stephanie Chok (00:00:55):
Thanks. Thanks PJ. Thanks for having me.
Let’s start for the audience by explaining your connection to the case and your relationship with Ibu Yani.
Stephanie Chok (00:01:05):
Yeah. Okay. So at the time when Yani was issued the caution statements in August 2017, I was the case manager at HOME shelter and therefore I took on the case. I was working there at the time and I’d reached out to a defence lawyer, Anil Balchandani, and requested that he take on the case and represented Yani.
So Yani came into [HOME], or was this through the police? You heard this through the police or Yani herself came into HOME?
Stephanie Chok (00:01:37):
So Yani had already been staying at HOME shelters since December 2016. So at the time when she was arrested and came out on bail, she didn’t have a place to stay. And therefore she ended up at the HOME shelter because we run a shelter for distressed domestic workers. So she’d already been staying at the shelter since December 2016. And at the time when she was issued the caution statements and she was charged was when things kind of like really kicked into a gear where we had to get legal representation and we knew that the decision then was to claim trial because she said that she was innocent and that she didn’t do it.
Right and so how is Ibu Yani today? Is she alright? How is she doing? Is she back home in Indonesia?
Stephanie Chok (00:02:24):
She’s currently still in Singapore. She’s on a special pass still and it is unclear exactly when she will go back to Indonesia as there’s still matters to be dealt with, but we hope that she can go back soon. She’s very eager to return to see her mother whom she has not seen for almost four years. And her mother’s quite elderly. Emotionally, she is really relieved and happy at the acquittal. She’s expressed that she’s a little bit uncomfortable with the publicity, like being recognised now that she’s outside. Of course, she’s also very heartened by the shows of support by others, but she has been incredibly stoic and strong throughout this entire time. Which I think is also why she was able to– we were able to support her through this. It’s also partly because of Yani’s resolve and conviction that she’s innocent and she wants to fight the case till the end.
Yeah. I mean, she must be amazingly strong because dealing with the Singapore justice legal and justice system. Four years and not bending or breaking and all the pressure placed upon her. Right. And even now I’m quite, I’m surprised she’s still here because the police still need her help, was it you said?
Stephanie Chok (00:03:53):
So currently the situation is that there are indications that they will still need Yani here for a while, but they haven’t specified for how long, But our hope is that, and her hope is that she can return to Indonesia soon.
And what exactly was your role amidst all this?
Stephanie Chok (00:04:15):
So initially I think when I got involved, I don’t think I, or anyone else, that got involved at that stage in 2017, I don’t think we realized exactly what this case entailed. I think we responded to each action item as it arose. And as we got more familiar with the case, then Anil would just assign tasks to us. So maybe it was trying to find out more about how watches are valued. So then he would just give instructions as if I was a magician, like “go find me a watch expo.” Sure Anil, why not? That’d be the easiest thing. You know, what to do. “This knife, Jarmay, it’s a Singapore company, go find out more.” So, I’m not legally trained. Yeah. So initially I was like, “Oh, how can I assist a lawyer?”. This is a legal case and I think initially a few of the other volunteers also felt that way but we did also have people with legal training who had to kind of grapple with the legal arguments and the legal side. So I think what we really did was worked really well as a team. And I think it was that sense of solidarity, support and commitment and resolute belief in Yani’s innocence and at our disbelief. And at times, shock and horror at what we felt was being reviewed as the trial sort of continued. That kind of really drove us to continue. Now that I look back at the things that I did, I was not prepared to do any of them. I didn’t think at the time I would be able to do things like, you know, find a watch expert or contribute to a defence submission but those were things that we all pitched in to help with and Anil, just kind of led us through that process and we just pieced everything together, always as a team.
Wow. Okay. So let’s talk about the case. I mean, where do we start? There are so many issues with this case. I think there is, you know, this has been gone over in the public and in the mainstream media, we won’t get into too much, but it seems to me there are four sort of, really, really big issues here. One is sort of that the Liews lied to the police and filed a false police report alleging theft. Another is how the police that investigate and the break in the chain of evidence– in the chain of custody of evidence and the sort of collusion then that the Liews demonstrated on the stand and the infamous wearing women’s clothing issue. And of course then the behaviour of the officials involved, especially the, I believe was the deputy public prosecutor, and this sleight of hand regarding the DVD player. And I mean, it just seems like, it’s not even one thing. It’s one after another where the whole system should have caught these things and at some point, someone should have said, “wait, hold on, stop. You know, justice is not being served here.” So, from your perspective, what happened? How did all this go wrong?
Stephanie Chok (00:08:04):
It’s extremely baffling and aggravating to have [to] watch this unfold over the last three years and nine months. And for the longest time, it was so difficult to talk about this because as the trial was ongoing, there were concerns about sub judice. But like you said, there were so many things that were unfolding and every day after another day of trial will be like, “what just happened there?” You know, this forensic analysis that’s happening now, people bringing things up like in shock and horror, but I want to emphasise that all this was said in open court in 2018, right? The fact– so Assistant Superintendent (ASP), Tang Ru Long was the prosecution witness on Day 1 and Day 2, This in April 2018. By then he already revealed that for five weeks after the first information report was filed by Liew Mun Leong, nothing was done. He already revealed in court that Liew Mun Leong filed the police report on the 30th of October 2016. Day after that, warrant of arrest was issued without him having even visited the Liew’s house, secured evidence, or even spoken to Mr. Liew. This was revealed in open court in April 2018. So my question is who was paying attention, who was not paying attention? And if somebody was paying attention, how did this case then continue? We then also have on Day 2, the crime scene specialist, right? So he testified that he was with ASP Tang. They went to Karl Liew’s house. They went to Liew Mun Leong’s house. By that time, the three jumbo boxes that were involved in the case where the alleged stolen items were from, they’d already been shifted from the alleged scene of the crime. For Mr. Liew’s house to Karl Liew’s house. So no longer are there three boxes in Mr. Liew Mun Leong’s house. So the crime scene specialist in March, 2018, right? He was tasked to go to do a sketch of Liew Mun Leong’s house and in that sketch, he drew in three jumbo boxes. But by that time there were no longer three jumbo boxes there. So our defence lawyer asked him about this, right? And he admitted that he drew in the three jumbo boxes, not based on contemporaneous evidence, meaning at the crime scene. My assumption is you just draw what you see, but he drew the three boxes based on ASP Tang’s instructions.
Wait, wait, hold on. Why do we have someone drawing it? Don’t they have cameras? I don’t understand this.
Stephanie Chok (00:10:49):
Exactly. So I don’t understand that process as well. Why did you draw a sketch? Not based on what you saw, but based on the instructions of ASP Tang? Even though by that time, there were no longer three boxes in the house. One or two of those boxes had already been removed and was sitting in Karl Liew’s house.
So instead of taking a photo, he draws a sketch and this sketch is then, becomes evidence and is brought into the trial. And he actually admits that, on the stand, that he actually didn’t see the boxes. He just drew them on these instructions?
He couldn’t fully remember at the time on the stand. But then when asked whether or not that– but then he also testified that he had been to Karl’s house prior to that, and that there were already boxes there. So clearly it’s not possible that there were still three boxes in Liew Mun Leong’s house on the day that he drew the sketch. And then he admitted that he drew the three boxes in on ASP Tang’s instruction. So red flag.
New Speaker (00:11:58):
Okay. So this whole thing is– I mean, it’s just– You know, for me right, a police report was issued against New Naratif on a Friday and I’m in the police [station] being questioned on Monday, right. It’s literally less than one working day. I was, you know, from one to the other, but for this, it’s like, there’s no investigation, there’s just a warrant issued. And of course it took the police 20 minutes to drive from Clementi Police Station with me here, where we’re recording this to seize my laptop. But for you,
Stephanie Chok (00:12:35):
Yes four. But what you’re saying is for you, I mean, for Ibu Yani they send one guy who just does a sketch. Doesn’t use it a camera?
Stephanie Chok (00:12:45):
I guess he was accompanied by the IO. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, okay, I guess the number of officers isn’t as important as the fact that I still don’t understand why they didn’t take a photo, but okay. So there’s this–
Stephanie Chok (00:13:03):
They did take photos as well.
Oh they did take photos as well?
Stephanie Chok (00:13:03):
Yeah they did.
I’m just, sorry, I’m just still puzzled by the need for a sketch. Why do we need a sketch?
Stephanie Chok (00:13:12):
I don’t know.
Okay. You don’t know. I don’t know. Okay. So how the police investigated then? Yeah. Right. What are the issues then turned up in court as this went along?
Stephanie Chok (00:13:27):
So as you’d already mentioned, I mean, the big thing would be the break in the chain of evidence leading to potential contamination of evidence and also how Ibu Yani was interviewed during the statement taking. So like you’d already mentioned, and maybe for listeners who are not so clear about the timeline. So, Parti, Ibu Yani, was fired, terminated by the Liew family on the 28th of October. And in the process of packing, you know, there were three jumbo boxes that were ordered for her, and the items were placed inside with the assistance of the two drivers. On the 29th, the Liew family – Heather, Karl Liew, Mrs. Liew or Mdm. Ng – opened the boxes, claimed that there were alleged stolen items in there. On the 30th of October Liew Mun Leong filed, a police report saying that Parti Liyani had stolen items from the family and subsequently ASP Tang issues a warrant of arrest without having visited the house to secure evidence, without having visited the scene of the crime and without having interviewed Mr. Liew Mun Leong, and there’s five weeks of inaction.
Right, so this is 2016, right?
Stephanie Chok (00:14:41):
Yeah. So five weeks of inaction and as you have contrasted compared to how quickly they moved when a police report was filed against you, And then in December 2016, 2nd of December, 2016 is when Parti flies back to Singapore and she’s arrested at the airport.
And at this point she has no idea that any of this is going on? She’s just coming back to look for work.
Stephanie Chok (00:15:02):
Yes, so she had no idea police report was filed. And I was having a conversation with someone the other day and the person said, “you know, she had no idea. So she could have just stayed in Indonesia and then five years later decide to come back for a holiday and she’ll be arrested at the airport.” Can you imagine that? But anyways, so she came back on the 2nd of December, 2016. She was arrested at the airport. Brought to remand at Tanglin Police Station and that was when the police realized, “Oh, you don’t have those things they accused you of stealing. Oh, the boxes are still in Mr. Liew’s house. Okay, let’s go make a visit.”
This is something that also puzzles me. How can someone steal something if it never actually leaves the house that it was supposed to be stolen from? Right.
Stephanie Chok (00:15:45):
So I’ve been asked that question so many times. In court, I think what ASP Tang, I don’t think I can remember his exact words, but something like how it was removed from the possession of that person. So, yeah. So anyway, it was classed as theft, right? So at that point they visit the house and Yani is questioned. She’s questioned twice. First of all, you have to imagine how shocked she was. You arrive in Singapore, you have no idea that this police report was filed and she was handcuffed, taken into custody, questioned about all these things. And she’s like, what? The boxes never arrived. I don’t know what items are you talking about. And the first time she’s interviewed by the police is after she’s arrested, when she’s really confused and shaken and shocked and upset, and they interviewed her without any items. The items were not physically in front of her. She has no photographs of the items. They’re just verbal descriptions of what the Liews have accused her of stealing. And she’s interviewed without a Bahasa Indonesian speaking interpreter and if you see the statement, it says that the statement was read to her in English and she was interviewed for over three hours. Then subsequently, I guess they finally make the visit to the house and then they have photocopies — like blurry, indistinct black and white photographs of the items. And then she’s woken up at like one 1:44 in the morning, still in remand, interviewed again by the same IO this time without a Bahasa Indonesia speaking interpreter. Wouldn’t you have had enough time by then to get one. A statement was recorded in English, read back to her in Malay. For four hours, she was interviewed and she was asked 108 questions just based on black and white photocopies of the photographs. And these two police statements were used in court by the prosecutors to try and impeach her credibility. These two police statements that were taken at this time under these circumstances.
It’s important to note: it’s actually a violation of her legal rights that she is interviewed without an interpreter present, right? Is this under the law? You are supposed to have someone who can actually speak your language or is this a gap in the law where there is actually no requirement?
Stephanie Chok (00:18:16):
So in court, what IO Amir was saying was that, Parti implied that she understood. But I think in Justice Chan Seng Onn’s judgment on page 37para 74 and 75, he talks about this bit, right? “the Statement by person examined under this section, the statement must be read over. If the person does not understand English, be interpreted for the person in a language that the person understands”.
Right? So this is the procedural requirement in the CPC. What does that stand for?
Stephanie Chok (00:19:00):
Criminal Procedure Code, i think.
It’s the law, basically that they have to do this?
Stephanie Chok (00:19:07):
Interpret in a language that the person understands. So I think what the police officer was trying to say in court that “but Yani understands Malay, understands English”, right. But then Justice Chan, bless you, Justice Chan. If I see you on the street, I know it might be– if it’s appropriate, I will give you the biggest hug in the world, but it’s probably not appropriate So I will give you a high five. Okay. So para 76, right? Justice Chan says, “noncompliance with the procedures under section 22 of the CPC can nevertheless diminish the weight of the statements. So appropriate weight must be accorded to the statements when considering the specific answers relied on by the judge for the conviction”.
So, basically to translate that into normal speech, she’s basically interviewed in a language she doesn’t fully understand.
Stephanie Chok (00:20:00):
It’s not a native language.
Yeah it’s not her native language. This is not justice. This is not fair and then that statement, which she does not fully understand is then admitted into court as evidence and relied upon in her first conviction.
Stephanie Chok (00:20:15):
Yeah. So it was basically used. It was introduced by the prosecution to impeach party’s credibility and it was used by both the prosecutors and the judge to imply that Yani was inconsistent and not credible as a witness.
Right. Golly. Okay. And I have to add, you know, 108 questions in four hours is a lot and it’s a bit of a rush. I got four and a half hours, I only had like 65 questions.
Stephanie Chok (00:20:44):
And in English right?
Yeah all in English of course. Yes. Whereas for her, it wasn’t a language she did understand and she’s being rushed through it.
Stephanie Chok (00:20:52):
And for P33, which is the number accorded to the police statement that was [inaudible]. So another issue with P33 is that ASP Tang, who was the investigating officer Parti alleged that he was present during the statement taking for P33, but his name is not on the statement. So IO Amir was asked about this in court as well and Anil was asking him, “is it standard procedure for somebody to be present during the statement taking, and then the name not be on the statement?” And IO Amir– and Anil asked him, “was it, a mistake?” And I believe IO Amir said something like, “it may have been a mistake. It may not have been a mistake.”
Yeah. Well, that’s not really an answer. So we have all these huge issues of how the police investigated it–
Stephanie Chok (00:21:54):
The seizing of the items, right? So importantly, it’s important to note that on the 17th and 18th of April 2018, IO Tang and IO Amir go to Karl Liew’s house to seize all the items he says that Parti stole from him. This is April 2018, almost 16 months after Parti was first arrested, right. And four days before the trial started was when Parti and Anil were finally able to physically see the items that she had been accused of stealing 16 months ago. So at each point at which she was questioned by the police, she never got to see the physical items. So just imagine you being questioned about small little earrings, necklaces, watches, very similar sounding items based on first, no photographs, then blurry photographs, then finally a set of photographs. And then finally you see the actual items and don’t forget the 120 pieces of clothing. How would you be able to distinguish between all these pieces of clothing in photographs where everything’s folded up? So finally, like on the 11th and 19th of April 2018, Parti and Anil are finally allowed to see the physical items. And then four days later, the trial starts.
Stephanie Chok (00:23:16):
Okay. So she’s arrested December, 2016. What happened through out all of 2017? She’s just sitting there in HOME shelter?
Stephanie Chok (00:23:25):
Yes. Unable to work, not allowed to work, not given permission to work.
And what are the police doing?
Stephanie Chok (00:23:33):
I would like to know.
Okay. Okay. Okay. The more you get into the details of this case the more, you know, it just boggles the mind. I’m trying to–
Stephanie Chok (00:23:48):
Okay. Let me, let me, let me talk about the third police statement. So there’s P32, P33. So basically the prosecutors do three statements to impeach Parti’s credibility, P32, P33. And then there’s P31. P31 was taken in 2017. This was when the case was temporarily handed over from ASP Tang to ASP Lim Hui Shan. Okay. So finally there’s colour photographs. Finally, there’s a Bahasa speaking interpreter, but the number of questions– it was a four hour 50 minute interview. She was asked 70 questions and she was asked to go through 119 photographs over 29 pages during this time. And Lim Hui Shan, in court, testified that yes, she was going through the statement very, very quickly and imagine she had to speak in English, it had to be interpreted by the Bahasa speaking interpreter into Bahasa. Yani will say something about how Bahasa, it has to be interpreted back into English over 119 photographs in four hours for 70 questions. So the opportunities for mistakes, misinterpretations are really high and Yani testified in court that the interpreter was going so fast, speaking in a mix of Malay and Bahasa Indonesia and it was really confusing for her. I believe that Justice Chan Seng Onn also took that into account.
And so this is, what was it? August, 2017?
Stephanie Chok (00:25:17):
August no, sorry. May 2017 and then she was charged on the 28th of August, 2017. So all this was taking place all the way from December 2016 to 2017. And then the items were seized, finally seized in 2018.
Oh. So this whole time they did not– even the police did not have the items, even when they’re showing her photos of the items? They had just gone to the Liew’s house to photograph the items, but never actually held on to the items?
Stephanie Chok (00:25:48):
So ASP Tang explained this, he said, “Oh, okay. I told them that they should not discard the items, but they were free to use it. Otherwise, I would be re-victimising them.”
Did the police offer any reason for this long delay? Is this standard? You know, I think for me, for our audience listening, is it standard to have this massive delay between arrest in December sort of re-questioning in May, a charge then in August and then a trial in April 2018? Like this seems like a very, very long delay.
Stephanie Chok (00:26:28):
That’s a question for the police to answer because I’m baffled as well.
They do say justice delayed is justice denied, you know, and it seems very unfair that she’s sitting– Ibu Yani is just stranded and unable to work for 16 months.
Stephanie Chok (00:26:48):
Yeah. The implication of the delay is also significant and this was what defence raised. And Justice Chan also noticed was that the contamination of evidence. So basically the fact that the items were unsecured, meaning the boxes were open and then just left there for months. So anything could have been put in or taken out by anyone There’s no way of ensuring that the police had in hand contemporaneous evidence of those alleged [from the] crime scene and then the items were shifted. They was shifted from Mr. Liew Mun Leong’s house to Karl Liew’s house. And then he’d used items that were taken out of the box, put back in a box. Some of the kitchen utensils were used by him to collect Curry when he bought prata. So, by the time the police actually went in April to collect items from Karl Liew, three items that he alleged was stolen from him were already missing. So, you know, these are stolen items, evidence had gone missing. Right. And the evidence had been tampered with because the packaging for some things were also gone. So the contamination of evidence I feel is a very serious consequence of these [inaudible], right?
Wow. These are huge, huge issues. I mean, I don’t even– just sitting here, I don’t even see how this– and the fact that you– you finally– Ibu Yani and Anil got to see the evidence and the trial starts four days later and there’s like, what was it? A hundred and something pieces of…?
Stephanie Chok (00:28:25):
144 items worth an estimated $50,000 before the value is, you know, changed at the end of the trial. But at that point it was 144 items valued at approximately $50,000.
I mean, they had 16 months to do all this and then you give– they give you four days. It’s almost like, well, let’s not make any, I won’t make any allegations, but this is very disturbing.
Stephanie Chok (00:28:47):
And I also want to talk about the valuation of items. So I the items were valued at, I mean, at approximately $50,000 and in court Anil asked IO Tang, how were these values derived? And ASP Tang said that it was not him that identified the value of the items on the charge sheet. It was conveyed to him by the individual complainants. So basically whatever’s value is on the charge sheet, it was simply told to him by the Liew family. So Mr. Liew would say, “okay, this is my item. It costs this much.” and IO Tang would just write it down. And there was no documentation provided by the Liews to support the prices that they’ve cited. So Karl Liew, for example, says Yani stole this Gerald Genta watch from me, its worth $25,000. So this is a watch with a broken strap, a missing knob, and the mechanism is faulty. So he was asked in court, “how did you come to this value of $25,000?” And he says, “Oh I believe it’s a famous brand. My impression of an expensive watch is something that is worth more than 20,000. So $25,000,”
He just pulled it out of air, basically. I mean, did he actually– he’s not saying “I bought the watch. So I know how much” cause he’s just saying–
Stephanie Chok (00:30:05):
It was a gift from his father is what he said and then he estimated at that amount because you know, he had the impression that it was expensive watch, and an impression of expensive watch would be one that costs above $20,000. And then, so he valued it at $25,000.
Yeah. This also says a bit about him. That an expensive watch is above 20. That for me, like an expensive watches above about a hundred dollars. But he starts at 20k
Speaker 2 (00:30:32):
And then there’s the Helix watch. That’s a watch that Karl said that Parti stole from him and that he valued at $50. So he was asked on the stand, “why did you value it $50?”. He said, because it’s an ugly looking watch and therefore, I would think a watch like this, ugly-looking watch should be maybe hundred dollars, but then because it’s so ugly he divided it by two and he got $50 and then our watch expert horologist Eric Ong, he on the stand, looked at the Helix watch and he said, “that’s a door gift. You get it free when you buy Shell oil, it is a very low value watch, it is worth nothing.” Yeah. And when he looked at the Gerald Genta watch, he said, this watch according to his expert witness, and he’s a trained horologist. He can even value gemstones. He said that this watch in its current condition, is worth no more than $500. The watch the Karl Liew value at $25,000. And throughout this time, nothing was done to value any of these alleged expensive items or ascertain their condition.
If I remember correctly, some of the items were rags that were then reclassified as clothes, or something?
Stephanie Chok (00:31:49):
Oh, one of them, yes. That rag. So among the clothing that Karl accused Parti of stealing was a rag that Parti had used in the house to clean up. Basically a used t-shirt and ended up in the pile of clothes that Karl had accused Parti of stealing, including her own clothing, of course.
So there’s one piece of evidence I wanted to ask about, which was the video. Because that seems to be another piece of evidence which was really, really mishandled because apparently the video was introduced to show the extent of Ibu Yani’s theft? But the prosecutors didn’t play the audio and the audio was very revealing. Could you talk a bit more about that?
Stephanie Chok (00:32:32):
Okay. So so there were also issues with that. So first of all, the video was only introduced when the trial started. So Anil it was also like shouldn’t evidence have been submitted before? But the video was a recording that was taken on Heather’s handphone on the 29th of October when they opened up the three jumbo boxes. So what they said in court was that, “Oh, you know, we opened up the boxes and we realised these things.” So they took a video recording, but this video recording was not taken at the start of when they opened the boxes. So it’s not clear what the seal status of the boxes were, whether they were actually all sealed at the point at which they had taken them out. So by the time you see the video, you just see the boxes are already open. You see piles of things just kind of littered all over the floor. It was a huge mess. And then you also see an emptied out black trash bag, which is quite significant for us at the appeal stage. So you can see this video, but then if you listen to the audio, it actually kind of contradicts what the Liews have actually said. So we got a court accredited translator to transcribe the video. So I’m going to read out the transcript of the videos and I will play all three characters, Mdm. Ng Karl Liew and Heather. Okay. So this is the video. [inaudible]. So this is the video where they have opened up the boxes.
And then when they submitted this video, what was it supposedly evidence of?
Stephanie Chok (00:34:07):
So the prosecutor submitted it to show that, look the open up the boxes and these are all…So many stolen items from Parti Liyani. But then if you listen to the audio and this is the court accredited transcription of the audio, it goes….
Stephanie Chok (00:34:22):
Mrs Liew: The karang guni man help me to move…
Karl Liew: Ma, you cannot get the karang guni man here. It’s still her things, Mum.
Mrs Liew: Huh, cannot?
Heather Lim: 还是她的东西。[These are still her things.]
Mrs Liew: 她的东西不可以啦？ [Her things cannot, lah?]
Karl Liew: 她还有jewellery咧。[She still has jewellery, leh.]
Mrs Liew: 哈？是假的啦！那些。[Huh? Those are fake lah! Those.]
Karl Liew: 金的。[Gold.]
Heather Lim: 有些是真的。[Some are real.]
Karl Liew: 有些是真的。[Some are real.]
Mrs Liew: 不可能，真的她要自己拿的。[Impossible. She will want to take the real ones herself. Cannot…]
Karl Liew: 那她, 她等下。。。[Then she, later she…]
Stephanie Chok (00:35:24):
But I guess the most significant part is Mdm Ng starts by saying “the Karung Guni helped me to move.” And Karl goes, “Ma you cannot get the Karung Guni man here, it’s still her things, mom.” So they, they actually admit in that video. So, Karl in court, right, says “we opened the boxes. Oh, it was so emotional. All my things, such sentimental value.” But what you see and what you hear in the video is Mrs Liew actually wanting to just discard everything and call the Karung Guni man. And Karl admitting “Those are still her things, mom.” So the fact that the prosecutor introduced this video and audio is actually so contradictory to their account is also something so baffling. And we actually produced the transcript of this video at the High Court appeal on Day 3 to Justice Chan and at point Marcus Foo, actually stood up and objected. He said–
This is the public prosecutor?
Stephanie Chok (00:36:26):
Public prosecutor. He said, “Oh, you cannot introduce new evidence now.” And then Justice Chan was like, “you don’t want me to read the transcript? Well, okay, then just play the video and let me hear the audio.” So they played the video again and everybody in court could hear Mrs Liew going “call the Karung Guni man.” And then Karl goes “you cannot call the Karung Guni man here, ma. It’s still her things.”
Stephanie Chok (00:36:47):
It’s so like why is he the only one paying attention and wanting to hear these things?
When the first time the video was played in court, the audio was not played along with the video? In the first trial.
Stephanie Chok (00:37:04):
I believe it was.
Oh, it was.
Stephanie Chok (00:37:06):
So, you know, we’ve covered two massive issues, right? The chain of custody of evidence and the recorded statements and the inaccuracy and all that. Let’s talk about what happened in court and how first of all putting the Liews on the stand and they say a lot of really contradictory things which– and of course there’s the most infamous remark about wearing women’s clothing. I mean, was there any sense when you were sitting there in court that these were not credible witnesses? At least in the first trial?
Stephanie Chok (00:37:52):
That would be an understatement, but I mean I was not allowed to attend the trial. At some point Anil had intended for me to be called as an expert witness for the defence side. So until that point, I was not able to attend the trial as a potential witness. So I was just reading belatedly, all the notes of evidence to kind of get up to speed with what was happening in court. So I’m sharing is from the notes of evidence. Of course I was kept up to date by what was happening on a day to day basis. But there were a lot of things that were revealed in court that were extremely disturbing and when we were putting together the defence submissions, we had highlighted for each prosecution witness, what were some troubling aspects of what they said in court. So for ASP Tang, it was, you know, the breaks in the chain of evidence. For the crime scene photographer Goh, it was the fact that he drew the sketch with the three boxes when they were not there. For example Mdm Ng/Mrs Liew, I think was trying to support her son’s evidence. So Karl had said one of the items on the charge sheets, Karl claimed as his were kitchen utensils that Parti herself had purchased. So these include steel pots, ceramic pots, forks and spoons, chopsticks, and two knives – a pink knife and a black-handled Jarmay knife. So Karl’s version is that he’d purchased these items when he was studying as a student in Wales, Cardiff, and that he shipped them all back after he’d completed his studies around 2002.
Stephanie Chok (00:39:51):
So we’ve come to Karl later, but Mdm Ng had said that when Karl shipped the items back and she was asked, “where were these items kept in the house?” And she said ibu Yani packed them”. And Anil kept saying, “are you sure it was Yani that packed these items?” She said, “yes, i’m very sure. That’s her job. She has to pack these items. It’s her job. She packed them.” But then Anil kind of then pointed out that this happened in 2002, Yani was not hired by you until 2007. So it would have been physically impossible for her to have been the person to have packed these items in your house. But she continued to insist that it was Yani. I think that was, to me, very clear because she’s saying something just quite impossible to have happened.
Stephanie Chok (00:40:42):
And then back to Karl Liew and the kitchen utensils. So he says he shipped all these things back. So the pink knife, which Justice Chan also spoke about in his High Court judgements. This pink knife is quite a modern looking knife. It’s a knife with like little cutout hearts and sort of pictures on it. Right. And Karl Liew admitted in court that this is a very modern looking knife, probably wasn’t available in 2002 in the UK. So he himself admitted that it probably wasn’t possible for him to purchase a knife like this in 2002 and yet he claimed ownership of it and explained that these were things that he bought into 2002. And then the black knife, which is manufactured by Jarmay, which is a company based in Singapore. Our defence witness, Ms. [Inaudible] came to court and said, “this black knife was not manufactured until 2006. It was not available in 2002.” So then later on when Karl was questioned about these kitchen utensils again, after this, he says, “Oh, I bought it in the season of time.” It’s another very memorable phrase from Parti Liyani’s trial.
He means he had just bought it in the past and he doesn’t remember when?
Stephanie Chok (00:41:56):
Yeah. I guess it’s [now] stretched from 2002 to “the season of time”.
Okay. I know you weren’t there, but all of this is just taken seriously in court? Did Anil ever come back and say, “I don’t know what on earth these people are talking about”, you know, or something?
Stephanie Chok (00:42:23):
I do have to say that, you know, in the grounds of decision by district judge Olivia Low…
In the first trial?
Stephanie Chok (00:42:33):
In the first trial. So in her grounds of decision, she says, “I found the prosecution witnesses to be largely credible and found the evidence to be clear, compelling, and consistent, even under lengthy cross examination.” The prosecution submissions, they said that the prosecution witnesses were consistent and credible, compelling, and realistic.
That’s clearly not true. As, you know, as Judge Chan later pointed out. I guess we can’t really understand what was going through her mind or why she wrote that. But it’s just startling. So I need to moment process to. Oh dear.
Stephanie Chok (00:43:23):
I mean, that’s how it was like for the defence team. You know, to attend the trial, to read the notes, to see and realize that this is what was happening. And yet, and yet, she was sentenced to 26 months in jail and we haven’t even come to the sleight of hand that was mentioned by Justice Chan.
Let’s talk about the prosecution and their behaviour.
Stephanie Chok (00:43:52):
Yeah. So in Justice Chan’s document which everybody should read he talks about the DVD player. And this is something that we brought up as well. Right. What was termed by defence as the “state of hand”. Right.
Sleight of hand.
Stephanie Chok (00:44:08):
Yeah, sleight of hand, sorry. So, this is based on the DVD player, which Mr. Liew had said that Parti had stolen which was at a thousand dollars and which Parti had said was not working. So Parti had explained in court that what had happened was that Mrs. Liew wanted to throw this DVD player because it was not working. Parti said, “if you don’t it, can I have it? I can get it fixed in Indonesia”. And Mdm Ng/Mrs. Liew said “up to you”. So Parti kept it, she didn’t test it. She just kept. And then at the State Court trial the prosecutors, Tan Yanying and Tan Wee Hao did a demonstration where they kind of hooked it up and had actually engaged hard disk drive and played a clip in court. And then subsequently asked Parti again, you know, whether it was working in Parti said that she didn’t know cause she didn’t test it. And they then kind of made it seem like she lied about the fact that it wasn’t working and therefore her story about how she had come to own this DVD player was a lie. So Anil was trying to question this demonstration because he was wondering whether there was actually a DVD inserted into the DVD player, but there wasn’t. It was actually being played from the hard disk memory, I suppose. So anyway, at the High Court appeal Anil requested for the DVD player to be brought in and therefore when the DVD player was switched to the DVD player mode– this is paragraph 90 page 46 of Justice Chan’s High Court judgment– there was an error message. It says, “could not initialize disk”. So the DVD player, the DVD function of the DVD player is not working. So the DVD player is not working. So there were already difficulties with the functionality of this DVD player, even at the State Courts and the prosecution conceded and agreed– I’m reading from the judgment– “on appeal, the prosecution conceded and agreed with the defence that during the trial below, there were already difficulties with the functionality of the Pioneer DVD player in playing the DVD disk but not the recorded clip in the hard drive. This however, was neither disclosed to the accused prior to the cross examination of Parti on the working condition nor disclosed to the judge in the trial below. Because they did not, if the prosecution had known of this defect in the Pioneer DVD player during the trial, they should have fully disclosed it. The trial court could be misled into thinking that the Pioneer DVD player was in good working condition. When questions were unfairly put to Parti on the basis that the DVD player was still in a good working condition after an incomplete demonstration of its important functionalities during the trial. The rule…” And then he goes on to say that the rule against introducing evidence from the [inaudible] applied equally to the prosecution and the defence.
Man, I’m dying here.
Stephanie Chok (00:47:32):
So you know how we felt!
I don’t even. So I mean, okay. So we can’t speculate on the motives of the prosecutor. I suppose they want to get a prosecution, but there’s so much going on. And then they do sleight of hand with the DVD player, but they’re supposed to be on the side of justice, not on the side of, “we must get a prosecution no matter what” and why even bring up this DVD player when you have so much other evidence already. Why? The question keeps coming up. Why? Why did this happen? Why did the judge allow this to happen and was so thoroughly bought into it and why did the prosecution do this?
Stephanie Chok (00:48:32):
Yeah. So, if you read the High Court judgment, right? Justice Chan had to actually remind everyone that someone is innocent until proven guilty. That the bar is beyond a reasonable doubt. To think that he had to emphasize in his judgements– So on page 76, right? He talks about this, right? “It Is clear that the prosecution is unable to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt solely on the basis of Karl’s testimony due to his evident lack of credibility. I emphasize that an accused person is presumed innocent and this presumption is not displaced until the prosecution has discharged its burden of proof. It is not the responsibility of the defence to disprove the prosecution’s case” That a high court judge has to remind us that somebody is presumed innocent, right? And you need, and that there is a certain burden of proof threshold that you need to cross. It’s remarkable. And I think then, this is where I want to make the point that the narrative from this case cannot be that, “Oh, justice has prevailed”. You know, we have a robust system, let’s tweak a few things throw a scapegoat under the bus and then it’s back to business as usual, right? What this case shows is that we have to ask so many questions about how things escalated from one police report to a warrant of arrest immediately the next day. Subsequently, inaction delays, breaks in the chain of evidence, contamination of evidence, all these things being revealed in court, and yet pushing a hit, pushing a hit, pushing a hit until she was sentenced to 26 months in jail. And then what it did take was this heroic judge paying attention, right? I know that there are a lot of people applauding Justice Chan and I applaud him too, because he paid attention. He applied legal reasoning and thinking, and he acquitted Parti. But how is it that it took this one man to pay attention for this result and this outcome to be achieved? That is really, really terrifying thing to realize about our criminal justice system. And that is what we need to think about. We cannot just celebrate this as “Oh, yay! Justice has prevailed”. No, that’s not the narrative here. It was, despite all odds, it was so exceptional. Such a confluence of factors that had to come together for this outcome and think about the fact that she was actually sentenced to 26 months in jail and that could very well have been the end of this story if she didn’t have the gumption, the strength to continue to fight this case and Anil agreed to do it as well. That terrifying prospect is what should drive us now to say “no, it’s time for accountability, not celebration”.
That’s the thing, right? Every judge should be like Justice Chan. Every lawyer should be like Anil. But instead, the reason why we’re celebrating them appears to be, there are exceptions. And what we’re celebrating actually should just be the norm And this whole case is an indication of very deep seated, deep-rooted problems within our system as a whole. Whether it’s the justice system, the legal system or broader structural issues. People have talked about elitism in Singapore, differentiated the treatment for the wealthy and well-connected but also of course also how migrant workers are treated. And the whole system of how we bring in migrant workers and how they’re employed and how we treat them.
Stephanie Chok (00:52:51):
Yeah. And I mean, because you know, this case also, I mean, it’s drawn a lot of attention because it’s sensationalism. Any parts of it that draws media attention and scrutiny. But I think what’s also important is for us to realize that there are other Parti Liyanis whose cases have not garnered attention. Who may not have had the same level of representation. And we need to think. Yani’s case should open up and we should sustain our scrutiny on all the practices that it exposes, right. And not allow it to be seen as– if we deal with and handle this case, if we investigate this case, then we’re done. So there are a lot of other domestic workers– cause when I was working at the shelter, it wasn’t just Yani who was undergoing this situation. It was just that hers was I guess the, the biggest case because of the sheer number of items, because of the charges, because of the days of trial it entailed. But there were also other women who are accused of theft. And I do need to share this observation that theft is not uncommonly used by employers and it can be very easily weaponized. Theft accusations can be very easily weaponized as a means to make things really difficult for domestic workers or migrant workers. It’s also a way sometimes to preempt complaints by domestic workers against employers. Sometimes it’s something that’s done as a counter-accusation after domestic worker has run away. And I’ve seen a number of cases of this when I was at HOME.
Okay. So let’s talk about the structural issues. And the first thing I want to ask is that Anil actually tried to say in the first trial, give a motive towards what the Liews were doing by saying that the Liews had illegally deployed ibu Yani. She wanted to make a complaint and then that’s why she was fired. But then the judge didn’t allow them to say that? Didn’t allow Anil to make that argument?
Stephanie Chok (00:55:10):
So there were several times during the trial where Anil was trying to advance, you know, trying to introduce more about the motive. And the fact that there was illegal deployment, but whenever he tried to bring up the MOM investigation into illegal deployment the prosecutors would object. And then Olivia Low also said that it was not relevant.
Stephanie Chok (00:55:44):
I can’t remember her exact words, but she kept saying it was not relevant. And every time Anil tried to bring it up the prosecutors would object. Yeah. So it was very difficult for him to fully flesh out that argument because he kept being kind of like held back at every point he tried to raise it. Yeah.
This is, as we’ve been discussing, part of a broader pattern where on the one hand you have exploitation of migrant workers and on the other hand, the weaponization of theft accusations. You’ve really gone through a number of these cases. I think we don’t to go over them again, but just give us an idea of how many domestic workers are in HOME shelter at any given time?
Stephanie Chok (00:56:29):
About 60 to 70.
Stephanie Chok (00:56:33):
Yeah and I mean, when I was working there, like at every week, we would have an average of 15 to 20 new runaways. Every week. So imagine in a full year, right? And there would be a whole range of complaints. From salary to verbal abuse to overwork and then of course some would be those who are there because there’s been a criminal charge or they’re under investigation, whether by MOM or by the police. And if they are the ones that are– so there are two types — they could be on a special pass because they are accused of a crime or they could be in a special pass because MOM or the police are investigating their employer and they are held back to assist in investigations, but they are the victim. So then in those cases they would be given permission to work. But if you are the one that’s sort of accused of a crime, then it would be very hard for you to get permission to work.
Right. Okay. Like how long do they tend to stay? Cause the way you described it, like months, if not years during which a lot of these workers can’t work,
Stephanie Chok (00:57:37):
It depends. So previously when we had another situation where she was the victim she was stuck in our shelter for two years and she’s the victim. There’s employers who were accused of physical abuse. And she kept asking the police, when can I go back? When can I go back? So the length at which they are held back is a huge problem. And it’s really frustrating because we will always constantly be chasing down police officers, emailing them, calling them, trying to get some news. It often takes really long time for their cases to be resolved. It’s sometimes difficult to get clear updates as well. So I mean the duration and the length is one thing. The other thing that you need to think about that kind of re-affect your mental health is the whole unpredictability and the indefinite delays. Imagine never really knowing when you can plan certain things. You never really know when your case will close, how long it will take, how long it will advance. Exactly when you’ll be charged, if you’ll be charged, what the charge would be. So all this uncertainties can cause a lot of mental distress.
Speaker 3 (00:58:43):
I mean, especially if you are accused of something and you know, that there’s a certain process and a trial then at least there’s some sort of idea of process. But if you are being held back to assist, because you’re the victim and then you then, you know–what was the [word]?
Stephanie Chok (00:59:05):
Stephanie Chok (00:59:08):
Hmm, That’s a good word. Yeah.
I mean, again, right. It seems like we’re okay with revictimizing domestic workers, migrant workers, but not okay with doing that to employers and it should be fair. No one should be revictimized I suppose. There’s broader issues here, and I know the last time you were on Political Agenda, we talked about all these huge issues with the migrant worker system. With the plight of migrant workers in Singapore, structural issues and challenges and then now we’ve added on top of it issues with the legal system, the justice system. And of course, you know, after the pandemic and everything that’s happened with migrant workers during the pandemic, we’ve really exposed the horrible, horrible underbelly, which you and other activists have been talking about for years, literally years. Right. And when’s all this going to end? How can we live in a world where we keep exploiting people in this way? I mean, I don’t know now I’m just very frustrated. But it is part of this broader attitude that we have that, you know, it’s okay to exploit people. This fundamentally very neo-liberal idea of a person’s inherent value and dignity is tied to their productivity as an economic digit. And if someone is only able to make a wage of $500 a month, they’re only worth that much compared to someone worth, you know, making a wage of $4,000 a month. That person therefore is, is eight times or many more times more with– has greater value as a human being, which is deeply, deeply offensive. But our whole economy seems to be structured on this concept that it’s okay to exploit people. And how on earth do we deal with this?
Stephanie Chok (01:01:24):
Yeah. So I mean that’s basically the lens that’s applied, right? I think the lens is one that’s very dehumanizing. It’s all about commodified labour. And of course, you know, there’ll be times maybe once or twice a year where we will celebrate their achievements, we will show appreciation, we will have all these celebrations to say “Singapore is built on your labour”, but then in reality on day-to-day, how we structure our policies how we think, or do not think of their wellbeing and their rights. What we do have is a very dehumanizing commodified lens in which we only want migrant workers here when they pass their medical test to show that they’re free of illnesses, diseases, they are able bodied, they’re productive, they are young they must be transient and never impose any kind of social load on us. That’s exactly the word that was used by- I can’t remember which minister now- that they do not impose a social load. They come here and they are a buffer. They are here when times are good and they are the first to go when times are bad.
Ballast? Wasn’t that also a word used in the election about migrant workers? And then thrown overboard.
Stephanie Chok (01:02:46):
I remembered the “buffer” one because that has been used a lot. So they [said] “foreign workers are buffers” – that’s been used several times. Here when times are good to help us grow the economy, build up our infrastructure and times are bad, they’re the first to go. I guess maybe I would also like to say that the criminal justice system and the problems embedded in it, shouldn’t just be migrant worker-focused. I mean, now there’s also attention on death penalty cases. And I think actually, it’s really important that we form some kind of coalition of persons working on criminal justice issues. That it doesn’t just get narrowed down to, “Oh, let’s only talk about Parti Liyani’s case and what it means for the criminal justice system.” We need to enlarge also the lens and think about all the different aspects of the criminal justice system all the way from law enforcement to prosecutors etc. And think about all the different types of cases that are seen. You know, there’s also sexual harassment cases that have been in the news. So I think that the impetus often, for the state, is to narrow, narrow, narrow, narrow individualize, individualize, individualize. Whereas I feel that our job as civil society is to always enlarge, enlarge, enlarge. Point to the structural demand for accountability. We don’t want scapegoats. We don’t want one person to just be thrown under the bus. We want accountability. We want structural change,
And really that can only happen if we get together collectively and demand that change because clearly there are deep-seated issues with the system as it is. And by abdicating our responsibility thus far, you know, where we have a government, a very paternalistic government, which has encouraged us to just abdicate our role as citizens and defend our rights as citizens and leave it in their hands. This has all happened on their watch and it shows that we can’t trust the government no matter how benevolent or well-meaning. Ultimately, a system is only as good as us citizens willing to fight for our rights and to watch over and demand transparency and accountability from those in power.
Stephanie Chok (01:05:13):
And maybe one final point is that if we, if this episode has shown us very spectacularly, how fallible persons [are], no matter how kind of well trained they are, if we have fallible individuals who are part of a fallible system, then we should also allow for people to criticize and demand transparency and accountability without intimidating and harassing them. We should think about our contempt of court laws, about the fact that we would easily prosecute someone for scandalizing the judiciary if they were questioning things that were happening at the courts. But if this case has shown anything, it was that we do need that level of scrutiny. We do need people to sound alarms and not at the tail-end and not only after one judge pays attention and writes this kind of judgment and gets attention. You know, this case happened in open court. It wasn’t a closed court situation, and yet it got that far. So we need to ensure that we have an environment where people can speak openly. You know, I shouldn’t have felt so nervous to talk about this case while it was ongoing. But I was. Because there was all this concern about “would I be scandalising the judiciary?”, “will this be contempt of court?”. So we also need to rethink and relook into that kind of political environment that we have created such that people are fearful to call out behaviours of people in the criminal justice system. We need to show that yes, we are open to that level of scrutiny, we are open to be held accountable, we will not just intimidate and harass and criticize people who raise problems.
Well said. So on that note, thank you very much, Stephii for joining us today.
Stephanie Chok (01:07:14):
Thanks for having me.
Yeah. It’s been a privilege and pleasure to listen and to speak to you. I want to thank you for all your hard work on this case. And I know there are probably so many other cases you’re working on that need attention too. So I want to remind our audience, as Stephii has said, this isn’t an isolated incident and it should never have gotten this far. And Justice Chan and Anil, wonderful people, but they should be typical of the system, not exceptions to it. And of course, yourself Stephii. You know, all Singaporeans should have the courage and the compassion that you have. And so I want to thank you too, you know, we must not get your role and all the other volunteers. So thank you.
Stephanie Chok (01:08:00):
Thank you team. I just really want to thank the team. I think we worked really well together and without their support and solidarity, I think we wouldn’t have gotten so far, but yeah, persevere. It was really perseverance that got us.
Thank you. And thank you to all of you listening. Thank you for joining me on Political Agenda and I’ll see you next time.