Arrest to acquittal: Everything we know about the 'Parti Liyani vs Liews' case

MS Explains: A domestic helper accused of theft, a dishonest scion and DPPs working ‘sleights of hand’, all set against a backdrop of power and influence. We take a look at the issues thrown up by the 'Parti Liyani vs Liews' saga.

Joshua Lee | November 10, 2020, 04:04 PM

By now, if the names Parti Liyani and Liew Mun Leong don't ring a bell, please get out of the rock you've been under you've come to the right place.

Since the story of a domestic helper who was acquitted of stealing from her very rich and very influential employer broke in early September, information has been put out in torrents — the most notable being the Parliamentary marathon that stretched to midnight on November 4, 2020.

Over the last two months, details of the case have come out in bits and pieces from a variety of sources. Pertinently, after the High Court overturned the State Court's decision to convict Parti, the Police conducted further investigation into the Liew family, which uncovered new information.

So, this is our attempt at making sense of the mess and putting together a coherent picture so that when your colleagues ask for your thoughts on the Parti Liyani saga, your response can be a bit more incisive than "huh?"

First of all, who are the people in this saga?

Parti Liyani is an Indonesian who worked as a domestic helper for Liew Mun Leong and his wife from 2007 to 2016.

From the Liews' side, we have ex-CAG head honcho Liew Mun Leong and his wife Ng Lai Peng, their son Karl Liew and daughter May Liew, as well as Karl's wife Heather Lim.

Karl and Heather live apart from the elder Liews and May — this is an important detail which we will get to later.

Lastly, Anil Balchandani is the lawyer who took on Parti's appeal case pro bono, with support from the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME). He helped overturned her initial conviction, which in turn sparked public interest in the case.


Parti Liyani was accused of theft by the Liews.

They claimed, in a police report, to have found many of their long-lost items in her possession.

The report led to Parti's arrest.

From the Police investigation, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) found Parti to be untruthful due to her inconsistent statements, and charged her with four counts of theft as a servant.

The State Courts also came to the same conclusion after a 20-day trial. In March 2019, Parti was convicted of stealing items worth more than S$34,000 and sentenced to 26 months in jail.

Parti appealed to the High Court which found that there was a period of time when the items in question were not held in Police custody and could have been tampered with.

The High Court also found that the Liews could have an ulterior motive for accusing Parti of theft: To prevent her from complaining to the Ministry of Manpower that the family deployed her (illegally) to work at Karl's home and office.

Lastly, the High Court had doubts about the credibility of one of the Prosecution witness — Karl.

Hence, the High Court acquitted Parti in September 2020. The acquittal pushed the case into the public spotlight, and gave rise to the public perception that a rich and influential family managed to exert influence on the legal system to unfairly prosecute a maid for their benefit.

Subsequently, the two Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) who were on the prosecution team during the trial were accused of hiding information about a DVD player in order to lead Parti to contradict her own statement. They are currently facing a disciplinary tribunal.

In his Parliamentary statement on November 4, 2020, Law Minister K. Shanmugam laid out the evidence, which led to the AGC's decision to prosecute Parti. He also said that the Police and AGC treated the case like a routine theft case without outside influence.

On the High Court's key factor on acquitting Parti — the Liew family's motive — Shanmugam explained that the judgement was made based on evidence which a subsequent investigation revealed to be limited.

The Minister for Law and Home Affairs also acknowledged deficiencies in the investigation, which were pointed out by the High Court. These include a Break in the Chain of Custody of the evidence, as well as the fact that the Police did not take Parti's statements through an interpreter in her first language, Bahasa Indonesia.

Regarding the former, there is an internal investigation going on now.

Now that that is out of the way, let's move on to the case proper.

The case and the arrest of Parti Liyani

⚡️ How a power bank led to Parti Liyani's dismissal ⚡️

In late 2015, Liew started to suspect that his domestic helper Parti was stealing from his house. Items that went missing include a bag that Liew bought from Tokyo, his jogging shoes, and several Longchamp bags.

He did not take action because he had no evidence then.

Sometime in May 2016, Liew discovered that another item of his had "disappeared". This time, it was a specially-designed power bank from France which was gifted to him just a few days prior.

This time, Liew decided to dismiss Parti. Her last day of work at Liew's house was October 28, 2016.

On the day itself, Karl informed her (on behalf of his father) that Liew was terminating her contract.

When Parti asked why she was dismissed, Karl said:

“...there are missing items in the house. And the only people staying in the house were my father, my mother, and you."

According to investigations that were conducted after the High Court judgement, Parti responded to her dismissal by shouting, "I want to complain, because you gave me too short notice."

She was given three boxes to pack her belongings as well as two months worth of salary as compensation (on top of her salary for October).

The boxes containing her belongings were sealed; Karl agreed to pay for the boxes to be sent over to Indonesia.

Parti then left Liew's house with an employment agent and flew back to Indonesia that night.

And in case you're wondering about that power bank from France (yep, the one that kick-started this saga), it was never found on Parti or in her boxes — at least not to our knowledge anyway.

📦 Family found long-lost items in Parti's boxes 📦

The next day (October 29, 2016), Heather, Karl, and Ng opened Parti's boxes. Heather reasoned that the family should not send the boxes over without knowing what they contain.

The family claimed that they found their belongings in the boxes — items that had been missing over a few years. These were the items:

  • One Pioneer DVD player
  • 120 items of clothing [Note: Five items were removed from the charge by the trial Judge – four items of clothing and one quilt cover]
  • One blanket
  • Three bedsheets
  • One Philips DVD player
  • Assorted kitchenware and utensils
  • One leather Vacheron Constantin watch
  • One white Swatch watch with orange-coloured design
  • One silver-coloured ring with blue shiny stones
  • One pair of silver-coloured earrings with white opaque stone
  • One yellow-coloured earring with one white opaque ball
  • An assortment of fashion accessories
  • One pair of black Gucci sunglasses

👮‍♂️ Parti Liyani arrested on December 2, 2016 👮‍♂️

Liew lodged a police report at Tanglin Police Station on October 30, 2016.

The Police issued a Police Gazette on November 4, 2016 because Parti was overseas. When she returned to Singapore on December 2, 2016, she was arrested at Changi Airport.

The Liews claimed that the following items — which were found on Parti when she was arrested — belonged to them as well:

  • One brown Longchamp bag
  • One blue Longchamp bag
  • One Helix watch
  • One Gerald Genta watch
  • Two white iPhone 4 with accessories
  • One black Braun Buffel wallet
  • One black Gucci wallet
  • One purple Prada bag
  • One pair of black Gucci sunglasses with

    red stains

These items were seized by the Police.

The Longchamp bags. Image courtesy of MHA.

The black sunglasses. Image courtesy of MHA.

The investigation and decision to prosecute Parti Liyani

⌚ "Stolen" items in boxes weren't brought into Police custody for over a month 👜

On December 3, 2016, the day after Parti was arrested at Changi Airport, the Police visited the residences of Karl and Liew to seize or take photos of the items which were allegedly stolen.

It is important to note here that more than a month had elapsed from October 29, 2016 (when the Liews discovered the allegedly stolen items) to December 3, 2016 (when the Police visited the scene).

During this time, the evidence was not in the custody of the Police, which means the three boxes of stolen items could have been tampered with. In fact, the Liews were already using some of the items that they retrieved from the boxes when the Police arrived on December 3, 2016.

Over at Karl's house, the Police examined the contents of one of Parti's boxes. Karl had brought the box home because he claimed that the allegedly-stolen items belonged to him.

Only 51 items were seized from Liew's house while the rest were laid out and photographed.

In his ministerial statement, Shanmugam said that not every item was seized because some were seen as daily-use items and the Liews had already claimed them.

Shanmugam also acknowledged that the Break in the Chain of Custody of the items in the boxes constituted a breach of legal requirements and police protocol. He let on that the the officer involved was under a lot of pressure and had a number of other ongoing cases, prosecutions, arrest operations, and a very personal matter that he had to deal with.

Nonetheless, an internal investigation is being carried out to address this breach.

🗣 Taking statements in bahasa melayu vs bahasa indonesia 🗣

Parti provided five statements to the Police in the course of its investigations, the first four of which were obtained from interviews conducted in bahasa melayu and not bahasa indonesia, her native language. Neither was she given an interpreter for the first four statements.

"Why was that so?" you might ask.

Shammugam said that the Police believed "in good faith" that Parti could understand bahasa melayu since she had been working in Singapore for 20 years.

More importantly, Parti chose to give her statements in bahasa melayu instead of bahasa indonesia when asked by a recorder, said Shanmugam. The recorder later testified in court that there were no issues in communicating with her.

For her fifth statement, which was taken when Parti's charges were served to her, the Police provided an interpreter who spoke to her in bahasa indonesia.

This final statement dealt with "the majority of the areas covered in previous statements recorded from Parti" said Shanmugam.

Later during the appeal, the High Court said that the differences in the languages for the first four statements could create reasonable doubt on their accuracy.

While the High Court considered it a breach of the Criminal Procedure Code (which requires a written statement to be read over to the person who gives it in English or a language that they understand), the statements remained admissible in court as it was not a "flagrant violation".

Bahasa melayu and bahasa indonesia are similar but they are not interchangeable. For instance, belanja in bahasa melayu means "to treat" but in bahasa indonesia, it means "to shop".

In fact, the difference was demonstrated during the trial.

Parti was trying to explain that she placed the DVD player near one of the three boxes. Yet the prosecutor countered that she said previously (in one of her Police statements) that she put the DVD player in the box.

This article by a former HOME staff member, Stephanie Chok, points out how dekat in bahasa melayu means "in" when used colloquially, but in bahasa indonesia, it means "near".

Parti also claimed during the trial that she may not have understood some aspects of the final statement because she said it was read back in a mixture of bahasa melayu and bahasa indonesia and the interpreter was talking too fast.

This was dismissed by the High Court because in her final statement which was read back to her in bahasa indonesia, Parti affirmed that it was correct and true.

On this matter, the Law Minister said that he has told the Police that they have to make sure accused persons understand the statement recording process, what it involved and what is required of them, and that they may ask for an interpreter at any time.

🤨 Why did the AGC decide to prosecute Parti? Was it influenced by Liew Mun Leong? 🤔

According to Shanmugam, the AGC felt that Parti's answers given in the course of the investigation were inconsistent and not credible.

For instance, Parti claimed that she had found items such as a Prada bag, two Apple iPhones, and a pair of Gucci sunglasses in the trash, which AGC did not find credible.

A Vacheron Constantin watch and a Swatch watch, as well as a pair of Gucci sunglasses were originally claimed to be gifts from friends but in her later statements, Parti said that these items were found in May's trash and in her room at Liew's house.

Parti also admitted to taking 10 to 15 items of clothing from Liew.

As a result, the AGC thought that Parti was untruthful and assessed that she did steal from her employer.  And because it appeared that Parti had stolen many items over many years, the AGC decided that in the public's interest to charge her.

Parti was charged with four counts of theft.

In his statement, the Law Minister said that the AGC approached it like any other routine theft case, and arrived at the decision to charge Parti based on the evidence available. In other words, there was no external influence from the Liews.

The trial and appeal

🧹 The illegal deployment: Motive for the Liews' police report? 🧽

Right after she was charged by AGC, Parti lodged a complaint with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), claiming that Ng illegally deployed her to clean Karl's home (in September and October 2016) and office (in 2012 and 2013) in exchange for a small token each time.

Employers of foreign domestic workers in Singapore are not allowed to deploy their domestic helpers to perform non-domestic work or work in commercial premises.

During the trial, which took 20 days between April 23, 2018 and January 17, 2019, the defence argued that the Liews tried to frame Parti for theft because they thought she was going to snitch to MOM about the illegal cleaning that the family made her do.

This was a key factor in the High Court's assessment of the appeal which would come later.

The High Court said the case against Parti was not proved beyond reasonable doubt due to the defence raising the possibility of the Liews having an improper motive for lodging a police report against Parti, coupled with the fact that prosecution did not prove that they did not have an improper motive.

The High Court came to this assessment after noting that on the day of her dismissal, Parti said to the Liews that she wanted to complain to MOM. Based on the evidence available at that time, the High Court inferred that the complaint was about being made to work illegally at Karl's home and office.

Subsequent investigations — after the High Court acquittal — revealed that this was not the case. What Parti said (and this was confirmed by one of the maid agency folks present on that day) was:

"I want to complain, because you gave me too short notice”.

Back to the trial, the judge said that Parti's modus operandi was to take a variety of items from different family members, thinking that this would go unnoticed.

Parti was convicted of stealing more than S$34,000 worth of items from her employer's family in March 2019. She was handed a 26-month jail sentence by the State Courts.

🤔 The credibility of the Liews : A cross-dressing Karl? 🤔

Were the prosecution witnesses unreliable? Well, the High Court thought that at least one of them, Karl, was.

During the trial, the man could not clearly identify certain pieces of clothing — like a black dress — as having been in his possession. Other items of women's clothing which he claimed Parti stole from him include a cream polo T-shirt and a red blouse.

At one point during the cross-examination, when asked why he has women's clothing in his possession, Karl claimed that he cross-dresses.

There were other inconsistencies in Karl's testimony.

For instance, he claimed that a Gucci wallet and a Braun Buffel wallet that belonged to him were gifts from his family. However, none of his family members could recall giving him those gifts.

Karl claimed that his father gave him a Helix watch. Liew himself denied having owned such a watch. Karl also said that one of the bedsheets found in his box was bought from Habitat in the UK. The bedsheet actually had the same pattern as a quilt cover, which had an IKEA label.

As for a Gerald Genta Watch – Karl initially said that the value was S$25,000. However, a defence expert put valued the watch at S$500, given it was missing some parts and function.

The High Court felt that Karl was dishonest and could not use his evidence to convict Parti. Shanmugam, in his statement, called Karl's attitude "cavalier".

Karl was later charged with giving false evidence during a judicial proceeding with regard to the case.

It is also worth noting here that Parti claimed that this watch was tampered with by a police officer. Anil saw a police officer shaking the Gerald Genta watch when the officer was asked to hand it to Parti.

She was then asked if it was working, and said that its hands were moving at that point.

However, during re-examination, the watch hands "did not move at all" when Anil asked the police officer not to shake the watch.

Parti said that this was "an attempt to cast [her] as being untruthful to the Court."

📺 2 DPPs, a DVD player, and a disciplinary tribunal 📀

One thing that stood out in the trial was the curious case of the Pioneer DVD player.

Parti originally said that the DVD player was faulty hence the family allowed her to take it. But during the trial, the prosecution — DPP Tan Yanying and DPP Tan Wee Hao — demonstrated that it was indeed working.

When the prosecution cross-examined her with this finding, Parti was led to agree that the DVD player was working, hence contradicting her own statement.

It would later emerge, during the appeal, that the DVD player could play videos stored on its hard drive, but could not play DVDs — a fact that Parti claimed she was not aware of.

The DPPs had known about this fact before the trial but they did not tell the judge, Parti, nor her lawyer, Anil.

Also, when Anil tried to conduct a re-demonstration of the DVD player during the trial, DPP Tan Yingying objected, claiming there was no need for it since Parti had agreed that it was working, reported The Straits Times.

The High Court judge, Justice Chan Seng Onn, criticised the DPPs for using a "sleight-of-hand technique… [that] was particularly prejudicial to the accused".

Parti subsequently made a complaint against the two DPPs, accusing them of hiding facts, which subsequently affected what she said in court. The Chief Justice agreed to commence investigations into the two DPPs and as of November 4, the matter had been brought before a disciplinary tribunal.

What now?

The acquittal and subsequent airing in Parliament have led some including MP Xie Yaoquan and ST associate editor Chua Mui Hoong to ask if the legal system has allowed a guilty party to walk away.

It should be noted that Parti was acquitted not because she was not guilty, but because there wasn't enough evidence to sentence her. The High Court gave her the benefit of the doubt, said Shanmugam because:

" was troubled by Karl’s improbable, unreliable statements; some other inconsistencies in the Liews’ testimonies; and their conduct; and for other reasons, relating to the reliability of Ms Liyani’s statements."

Cases where the appeals overturn prior convictions are few — about 10 per cent of all appeal cases, according to Shanmugam. But perhaps the issues raised by this case are things that we should mull over deeply.

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