THE CASE should have been thrown out. The police investigation was botched. The accuser’s testimony was riddled with inconsistencies. But on March 20th last year Parti Liyani, an Indonesian maid accused by her Singaporean employer of attempted theft, was convicted and sentenced to 26 months in jail. That is where she would be now, were it not for her successful appeal to the High Court—a rare feat for a foreign domestic worker. On September 4th she was acquitted by Justice Chan Seng Onn, whose ruling declared her employer’s motive for filing charges “improper” and reminded the lower-court judge “that an accused person is presumed innocent” until proven otherwise.
The ordeal began in 2016, when Ms Liyani was summarily sacked by Karl Liew, the son of Liew Mun Leong, her employer and a powerful figure in business who, among other things, was chairman of the state-owned Changi Airport Group. Ms Liyani threatened to inform the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) that the Liew family had broken the terms of her contract by having her regularly clean Karl’s home and office. She was escorted from the premises before she could finish packing. The next day the Liews claimed that they found $50,000-worth of their stuff in Ms Liyani’s boxes.
The police issued a warrant for Ms Liyani’s arrest, but did not visit the scene of the crime for over a month and did not seize the evidence for more than a year. The trial judge disregarded such irregularities and imposed a greater burden of proof on the defendant than on the plaintiffs, according to Justice Chan. He ruled that the prosecution “failed to dispel the reasonable doubt raised by the defence”, who argued that the Liews framed Ms Liyani to stop her from reporting them to the MOM.
The police, the MOM and the attorney-general’s chambers are reviewing their handling of the case. On September 10th the elder Mr Liew resigned from his public posts. That will be small comfort to the 260,000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. A quarter of those assisted over the past three years by HOME, a charity, say they have been illegally deployed. But most do not know their rights, rely on the goodwill of their employers to remain in the country and cannot afford legal fees. Those who do complain sometimes face retribution. It is “a known defensive measure”, Ms Liyani’s lawyer said in court, for employers to try to silence aggrieved maids with false accusations. Ms Liyani knows that all too well. She has been out of work since she was fired by the Liews. ■
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Aggrieved Parti”