The sentencing of Karl Liew to two weeks of imprisonment marks the end of a long saga where an innocent Indonesian domestic worker was wrongfully accused of theft by a wealthy and connected family who thought nothing would come out of their wild allegations.
However, it should be noted that the imprisonment term was based on the sentencing judge’s discretion, rather than what the prosecutors from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) had asked for.
Both the prosecution and Karl’s defence lawyer had submitted that Karl – who is an undischarged bankrupt – should be fined the maximum amount of S$5,000.
The prosecution did not ask for a custodial sentence on account of Karl’s claim he has Parkinson’s disease, while Karl’s lawyer said that a custodial sentence (jail time) would severely impair his client due to the sickness.
This comes as the prosecution amended the initial charge of Section 193, which carries an imprisonment for a term of up to 7 years and/or a fine, to a lesser charge of Section 182 that carries an imprisonment term of 2 years and/or a fine.
Karl was initially charged on 5 November 2020 with two counts under Sections 177 and 193 of the Penal Code.
District Judge Eugene Teo, who heard the case, disagreed with the submissions from both parties, stating that “nothing less than an imprisonment sentence is due for such cases.”
DJ Teo even noted in his judgment that the submissions by Deputy Prosecutor Kelvin Chong read like mitigation for the accused, which the defence copied wholesale.
The District Judge even had to be the one to ask for the credentials of the doctor who certified Karl to be suffering from Parkinson’s disease, which would suggest that the Prosecution did not have any objection to Karl’s claim of being sick without much proof.
Normally, the Prosecution would have been the party breathing down the neck of any accused who claims sickness and requesting their own doctors to do the examinations.
In a rare instance where the judge had to step out to disagree with the submissions by the prosecution, which Karl’s lawyers also adopted, Karl’s false testimony caused no actual harm because the judge did not convict Ms Parti of the theft of the items based on the testimony.
DJ Teo states that this approach is narrow and fails to consider the broader context as he believes that Karl’s false testimony resulted in police and prosecution being misled, Ms Parti being investigated and charged for a small part of the offence, and all parties having to expend time and effort in reviewing the probity of the false evidence.
It is clear that even as charges were filed against Karl, the prosecution was going light on Karl – whose father, Liew Mun Leong, was a prominent business leader in Singapore – by choosing to charge him solely for lying about items that had been taken out by DJ Low in her judgment, as if it had contemplated how to mitigate the sentencing as it did in its submissions.
As the District Judge rightfully pointed out in his judgment, the prosecution had focused only on a small segment of Karl’s testimony, which was the basis for Ms Parti’s original conviction.
Out of S$50,856 worth of items that Ms Parti was charged for stealing, S$46,856 worth of items were declared by Karl, which was reduced to S$34,000 by DJ Low due to the pro bono efforts of Mr Anil Balchandani from Red Lion Circle law firm.
The allegations made by Karl and his testimony in court over the course of five days – insisting that Ms Parti had stolen the items from his family – could be argued as the key basis for which DJ Olivia Low made her judgment and sentencing.
As many have called for Karl to be punished with the same sentence that Ms Parti was initially convicted with, AGC should have charged Karl under Section 195 of the penal code for the lies that he had spoken to the police and in court about the alleged theft.
Section 195 states, “Whoever gives or fabricates false evidence, intending thereby to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, any person to be convicted of an offence which by this Code or under any other law for the time being in force is not capital but punishable with imprisonment for a term of 7 years or upwards, shall be punished as a person convicted of that offence would be liable to be punished.”
Considering proportionality, Karl’s false evidence that resulted in Ms Parti’s wrongful conviction should have been punished with a sentence equivalent to 23 months of her original 26-month imprisonment, rather than the lenient two-week sentence that the District Judge was constrained to impose based on the charge decided upon by the AGC.
In any case, AGC’s actions are not surprising, given how its prosecutors fought to reject Mr Balchandani’s submission on the High Court’s assessment of Karl as a witness, where Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim said in a 2018 judgment, “Overall, I find Liew to be a dishonest and evasive witness, whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies.”
DPP Tan Yingying fought Mr Balchandani at every step of the hearing to deny the admission of the judgment as a statement of Karl’s credibility as a witness.
But at the same time, it is rare for AGC to charge its witnesses for lying in court, even in cases where it is shown that the witness lied in court. Had it not been for the public outcry over the wrongful prosecution of Ms Parti, it would probably be inconceivable to expect AGC to proceed with any action against Karl.
That reluctance can perhaps be illustrated by how AGC declined to accept the Victim Impact Statement from Ms Parti, which she had already prepared, as if AGC was worried that her statement would adversely affect the chances of Karl getting off with just a S$5,000 fine.
This article was first published on The Online Citizen and republished on Gutzy as Minister of Communication and Information Josephine Teo requested the article to be removed under the POFMA declaration that she issued on 21 July 2023
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