Law firm says it ‘only played a very small part’ in surprise acquittal of Changi Airport chief’s ex-maid

Parti Liyani with her defense lawyer, Anil Balchandani, and the HOME team. Image: HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics/Facebook
Parti Liyani with her defense lawyer, Anil Balchandani, and the HOME team. Image: HOME: Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics/Facebook

The Singapore law firm gaining widespread recognition for helping a domestic helper win a case against her former employers is redirecting their success to the hard work of migrant worker activists. 

The Red Lion Circle law firm and its lawyer Anil Balchandani had defended Indonesian domestic helper Parti Liyani, 46, from the state to the high court, after she was accused by former employer, Changi Airport chief Liew Mun Leong, of stealing S$34,000 worth of items.

“A lot has been said regarding counsel’s participation at the trial and at the appeal. Red Lion Circle wishes to state that counsel for Parti Liyani only played a very small part in her acquittal,” the firm said in a statement.

Liyani was in March 2019 found guilty at the local state court and sentenced to two years’ jail. She then appealed the case in the high court, where shocking details including mishandling of evidence and illegal deployment surfaced. 

On Friday, high court’s Justice Chan Seng Onn ruled that there was “improper motive” among the Liews and acquitted Liyani of all four counts of theft. He also said that the prosecution had failed to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.

“I first observe that in the present case, which involved a voluminous number of items, the proper handling of the evidence by the police and recording of the allegedly stolen items is crucial in order to preserve the chain of custody of the items,” his judgment read.

“Coupled with the existence of an improper motive by members of the Liew family for mounting the allegations against Parti, I find that the convictions against Parti are unsafe and accordingly acquit her of all the charges,” it added. 

The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, or HOME, was greatly involved in Liyani’s case and even provided her shelter. The law firm had represented Liyani on a pro-bono basis. 

Red Lion Circle added in its statement: “The bulk of the work was done, and continues to be done by Non-Governmental Organizations, who toil day and night, weekday and weekend to console, advance and assist foreign domestic workers, foreign workers and others who are in distress.”

“There are many more Parti Liyanis who languish in shelters and our prisons who’s attention we, as a nation, should turn to,” it said. 

Justice Chan had also praised defense lawyer Anil, who is a former engineer, for his work, describing his written submissions “detailed and well-footnoted,” his arguments “persuasive” and that he had “scrutinised” all the evidence. Praises for Anil continued online as well. 

“Really not easy for an experienced lawyer to sacrifice in such manner. Our salute to him for his kindness and compassion to help the poor & needy!” Facebook user Daniel Lowe wrote today.

“Let’s take our hats off to Justice Chan who passed good judgement for this case. The plot against the maid from the rich family has failed. It’s also a wake-up call for the rich people not to abuse lowly wage earners who came to our city state to earn a living,” another user Victor Lee wrote.

Meanwhile, the Liew family as well as the Changi Airport Group are facing widespread criticism over the case.

“Real shame to the Liew family despite being in the elite class in society and chairman of CAG..and previous CEO of Capitaland..if not for Lawyer Anil B…your helper would have been [wrongfully] accused and charged…..[I] really hope the authority will serve justice and punish the criminal. ([L]iew family) compensate the innocent helper for her loss of income,” Facebook Samuel Tan wrote today. 

Liyani has since forgiven her employer but is also demanding a public apology and compensation over the loss of wages throughout the four years since the accusation began. 

Liew hired Liyani in 2007 before firing her in October 2016 after she reportedly threatened to report him to the Manpower Ministry for illegally deploying her to work for his son, Karl, to clean his home and office in 2012 and 2013. She was only given two hours to pack her belongings before returning to Indonesia and was told that three boxes of her belongings would be shipped to her later. However, those boxes of items later became the subject of Liew’s accusations. 

Liew and his son filed a police report against Liyani for stealing items that include 115 pieces of clothing, a DVD player, a luxury watch, two iPhones and designer bags and sunglasses. 

The Manpower Ministry had investigated Liyani’s claims about illegal deployment but let her employer and son get away with a slap on the wrist. 

“The Ministry investigated her complaint and found that Mrs Liew deployed her to Mr Karl Liew’s house and office on different occasions. At the conclusion of the investigation in May 2018, the Ministry issued a caution to Mrs Liew and an advisory to Mr Karl Liew,” the Manpower Ministry said in a statement

Following the acquittal, the Attorney-General’s Chambers also said that it was looking into the case again. 

“AGC will study the judgment to assess what further action, if any, ought to be taken in this case, in the light of Chan J’s comments. His findings do raise questions which warrant further investigations,” it said. 

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