'I never restricted her from anything': Male employer in maid abuse case

'I never restricted her from anything': Male employer in maid abuse case

Lim Choon Hong, who was one of Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan's employers, told the Deputy Public Prosecutor the maid "didn't complain" or that he "didn't delve deep into these things" when asked why he did not intervene, when he noticed the maid had become frail on her inadequate diet.

SINGAPORE: Lim Choon Hong, who is on trial along with his wife Chong Sui Foon for allegedly starving their maid Ms Thelma Oyasan Gawidan till she weighed just 29kg, acknowledged that he realised his maid had lost weight and "looked frail", but he "didn't read too much into it" because "she didn't tell me anything".

This was the recurring theme of Lim's evidence given in court on Wednesday afternoon (Dec 16).

"If she looked like this, I would definitely be shocked," said Lim, when showed a photograph of Ms Thelma at 29kg, taken two days after she fled from the Lim residence at Cuscaden Walk. But he did not intervene. "I am not the type (to) read into a person, including my wife", Lim said, in response to Deputy Public Prosecutor Sellakumaran Sellamuthoo's question as to why he never enquired into Ms Thelma's obvious weight loss.

On at least four occasions, Lim told DPP Sellakumaran that Ms Thelma "didn't complain" or that he "didn't delve deep into these things" when asked why he did not intervene, despite admitting to noticing that the maid had become frail on her diet of instant noodles and bread.

Lim said he had brought the issue up to Chong, and suggested that Ms Thelma be fed "more nutritious food, for variety". But "where food is concerned, my wife likes to be in charge", Lim explained, adding that he had told Ms Thelma to sort out any "food issues" with Chong.

CHONG DIAGNOSED WITH ANOREXIA, OCD

Lim admitted that Chong tends to be "very obsessive with food", revealing that Chong had suffered from anorexia nervosa as a teen, and continues to be "particular about what she eats". Chong mainly eats bread. "She doesn't really eat anything else ... she's always very conscious about weight (and) sometimes she doesn't even eat," Lim said of his wife.

He only learned about his wife's eating disorder via his parents-in-law after Ms Thelma ran away and complained of being starved, Lim admitted.

In response to allegations that the couple had starved Ms Thelma, Lim told the court that he and his wife also "only consume two meals a day, sometimes only one meal a day", about the same number of times the couple fed the maid. Lim said the couple lead a busy life, and sometimes "time just doesn't allow" for more meals to be consumed in a day.

They also do not keep snacks around the house, because of Chong's "obsessive cleanliness". Chong, who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is currently seeing a psychiatrist and is on medication.

Lim said that "if we snack, we will drop crumbs, (and we will have to) clean". Cooking is also not allowed, as that would "dirty the kitchen ... (and Chong will) clean it obsessively". "Our lifestyle revolves around food and cleanliness," Lim admitted, describing his wife's obsession to be "like a religion".

This causes a lot of stress in the household because Chong's habits could be "overbearing", Lim conceded. The couple's second child ran away from home as a teen in 2010 because of his mother's "tendencies". He still has not returned home, Lim said.

Lim also confessed that the family "camps out" in their living room instead of sleeping in their bedrooms, so Chong would not have to worry about cleaning the rooms.

Allegations have also been made that Chong made Ms Thelma shower in the condominium's public toilet. "I also use (the public toilet)," Lim declared, adding that this was easier than having to "disinfect" and clean the bathroom in his unit after every shower, as Chong does not like "splashes of water" in the bathroom.

"It's for Thelma's sake" that they showered in the public toilet, because she would have to "clean the whole bathroom" after anyone had used it, Lim testified.

As for Ms Thelma only getting to shower once or twice a week, Lim said the couple do not shower on a daily basis either. Sometimes there is no "opportunity to shower" because of the odd hours the couple keep. Because his business interests are in the UK, Lim works in that timezone, and is often asleep in the day and up working at night.

When asked by his lawyer if he had anything to add, Lim broke down sobbing. "It's a set of unfortunate circumstances that has led to this trial ... what (my wife) has done is not intentional, it's not evil in her heart."

"There are underlying reasons ... you cannot look at it like (we were) doing it on purpose, it's never like that", Lim said.

Chong cried in the dock as her husband testified from the witness stand.

I NEVER RESTRICTED THELMA FROM ANYTHING: LIM

Lim also responded to allegations concerning Ms Thelma being forbidden to speak to anyone outside the family. Citing the example brought up by Ms Thelma about being stopped from communicating with the neighbour's maid, Lim said it was in fact his neighbour's request that the maids not communicate with each other.

He was not aware that Ms Thelma had a mobile phone and claims he never withheld her pay. He simply advised her not to spend it. "That's the advice I give my maids, try to spend it wisely," he said.

Lim also took the opportunity to give his version of events during the family's Hong Kong trip with Ms Thelma. He had travelled there with Ms Thelma, while Chong and their children were on a separate flight. This gave him about a day alone with Ms Thelma.

Lim said he showed Ms Thelma around and "took her sightseeing, because she had never been there before". He also claimed to have taken Ms Thelma to Starbucks for coffee, McDonald's for a Big Mac and Crystal Jade restaurant for dim sum. "She did have instant noodles and bread ... sometimes for the sake of convenience, but she had other things too," Lim said.

In Singapore, he would also buy food for Ms Thelma, Lim said. "It was not often, but I did," he testified, adding: "I never restricted her from anything."

Lim also repeated that it was Chong who "actively managed the children, the maid and the household" while he "just looked after the finances". "I'm passive, I don't want to create any tension," Lim told DPP Sellakumaran.

"But you are the registered employer (of Ms Thelma) and you had an active responsibility," the DPP contended. When asked if he, too, ate instant noodles and bread, Lim said he sometimes did, "to speed things up".

But he admitted that Ms Thelma ate a different brand of bread from the rest of the family. When DPP Sellakumaran asked why a different brand of bread had to be bought especially for Ms Thelma, Lim said "my wife asked me to buy (it), so I (would) just buy (it)".

He also believed Chong provided Ms Thelma with meat and vegetables on a daily basis, although he admitted he had no personal knowledge of this. "If my wife tells me she's given it, then she's given it," he said.

"Why are you so sure she's eaten?", DPP Sellakumaran asked Lim, who had admitted that he had simply assumed Ms Thelma had been given food by Chong. "Because she has to eat, right? She can't run on air. If she's not eaten, why would she keep quiet?", Lim said.

Although originally fixed for three days, the trial will have to enter into a second tranche, as the defence has three remaining witnesses to call, including Chong. Dates for the second tranche will be decided on Dec 30.

The couple are on bail of S$3,000 each.

Source: CNA/dl