For the nine years from 2007 that she worked for Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family, Indonesian Parti Liyani had a relatively harmonious relationship with its members.
They gave her generous red packets and raised her monthly salary from $300 to $600.
However, from time to time, she clashed with her employer’s son, Karl, over her household chores at the Chancery Lane family home.
Things got more heated when Mr Karl Liew moved out with his family in March 2016 to a house nearby.
The domestic worker was told to go there to help with the chores, as well as clean his office in another location.
It is disputed how often Ms Parti was asked to do the extra work.
Mr Liew Mun Leong’s wife, Madam Ng Lai Peng, said she paid the maid $20 on each of the three occasions she asked her to work at her son’s house.
But Ms Parti, 46, said she cleaned Mr Karl Liew’s office once a week for about a year. She said she received $10 for two to three days of work, and the payment was not regular.
Disputes arose over her refusal to clean a toilet at his home and to cook extra food for him.
On Oct 28, 2016, when Mr Karl Liew told Ms Parti she was fired, she replied: “I know why. You angry (sic) because I refused to clean up your toilet.”
Given two hours to pack before she went home to Indonesia, she became angry and threatened to lodge a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) about the illegal work deployments.
Two days later, while she was back in Indonesia, Mr Liew and his son made a police report after the family allegedly found their belongings in three boxes, which Mr Karl Liew had agreed to pay to ship to her.
In his judgment, Justice Chan Seng Onn noted that “some time prior to her termination”, Ms Parti had expressed unhappiness at being made to do additional work.
“There is reason to believe that the Liew family, upon realising her unhappiness, took the pre-emptive first step to terminate her employment suddenly without giving her sufficient time for her to pack, in the hope that Parti would not use the time to make a complaint to MOM.”
Once she made clear – upon being fired – her desire to complain to MOM, the Liew family “followed up with the police report to ensure her return would be prevented”, said the judge. “In my view, the Liew family might not have made a police report had Parti not made her express threat on Oct 28, 2016 to report the matter to MOM.”
Justice Chan did not believe the testimony of the elder Mr Liew, who said he had decided to fire her because things had gone missing “over the years”.
The judge said there was no evidence that any new items were discovered to be missing that necessitated the maid’s immediate and sudden termination while Mr Liew was overseas.
Justice Chan examined in detail the explanations given by Ms Parti and the family members over the various items alleged to be stolen. The judge noted many showed “some form of dysfunctionality”.
He believed Ms Parti, who said many of the items had been discarded by the Liew family, some of them during Mr Karl Liew’s move.
He said it was “not unimaginable” that things would be thrown away in the process.
“Parti’s explanation is neither unbelievable nor uncommon, especially when one considers this in the light of the affluence of the Liew household, Karl’s willingness to give away the black bag containing suits, jackets and pants, the neatness and tidiness of the interior of the house… indicating that the Liew family were not hoarders.”
The family had also recorded a video of the items taken out of the boxes after Ms Parti left.
In the video, Madam Ng said she wanted to get a karung guni man to help her “move” them. Her son replied: “You cannot get the karung guni man here. It’s still her things, mum.”
Justice Chan said this indicated that the Liew family intended to throw the items away. “I do not get any impression that the Liew family would have the habit of keeping old, unwanted or spoilt items in the house and not discard them.”
Ms Parti has one more charge pending, which is the possession of items, including wallets and ez-link cards, which are suspected to have been fraudulently obtained.
What the judge said about…
DISTRICT JUDGE OLIVIA LOW’S FINDING ON THE LIEWS’ CREDIBILITY
I find that the judge’s eventual finding that the prosecution’s witnesses (which include Karl Liew) were largely credible with clear, compelling and consistent evidence, is simply unjustified and is, in my judgment, against the weight of the evidence.
Karl’s dishonesty on the stand was plainly evident from his testimony and the judge failed to fully appreciate her decision to amend the second charge in relation to Karl’s lack of credibility.
The fact that Karl lied about particular items in the second amended charge does not only taint his credibility as a witness, but also affects the convictions for the items in the second charge that are premised on Karl’s testimony alone.
AN ‘INCOMPLETE DEMONSTRATION’ AT TRIAL
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 disc, but not in playing the recorded clip in the hard drive of the DVD player.
The fact that there were such difficulties with the functionality of the Pioneer DVD player was, however, neither disclosed to the accused prior to the cross-examination of Parti on the working condition of the Pioneer DVD player nor to the judge in the trial below.
If the prosecution had known of this defect in the Pioneer DVD player during the trial below, it should have fully disclosed it.
The trial court could be misled into thinking that the Pioneer DVD player was in a good working condition when questions were (and 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.
DEDICATION OF DEFENCE LAWYER ANIL BALCHANDANI
His written submissions were detailed and well-footnoted; his arguments were persuasive; he explored carefully every aspect of the prosecution’s case and scrutinised the voluminous evidence in the transcripts in order to mount his client’s defence both at the trial and the appeal with clarity; he analysed the grounds of decision of the trial judge in great detail to submit on areas where the trial judge had erred in her findings; he handled all these matters single-handedly and had shown much dedication in his pro bono work for this case.
JUSTICE CHAN SENG ONN
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