SINGAPORE: A man accused of murdering his lover at Gardens by the Bay in 2016 and dumping her body in Lim Chu Kang where he burnt it for days claimed trial on Tuesday (Mar 12).
Leslie Khoo Kwee Hock, 50, faces a single murder charge for strangling 31-year-old engineer Cui Yajie on Jul 12, 2016 in the front passenger seat of his car in a secluded road.
He is accused of killing his lover of about a year to silence her, as she had threatened to expose his lies about his relationships and bogus investment schemes, jeopardising his career and marriage.
After the alleged deed, Khoo lowered the back of the front passenger seat and covered her body with laundry bags, said the prosecutors.
According to the prosecution's opening statement, Khoo then bought charcoal and kerosene from two shops along Kranji Road and burnt Ms Cui's body under a metal canopy in Lim Chu Kang.
He returned to the location a few more times between Jul 12 and Jul 14 to replenish the charcoal and kerosene to "ensure that the body was burning well", said the prosecution.
"At one point, he dragged the half-burnt body into a drain, so that it would continue to burn away from sight," said Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Wen Hsien, Sarah Shi and Stephanie Koh.
"By the accused's account, even if he did not strangle her to death, he would have killed her by burning."
Two days after her alleged murder, Ms Cui's MediaTek colleague Chong Hwee Nee lodged a police report stating that she had not been seen in the office since Jul 11.
Taking the witness stand on Tuesday, Ms Chong, a human resource (HR) executive, told the court that Ms Cui's supervisor had called HR and said that Ms Cui had been absent for two days without applying for leave.
"We went to her house and knocked on her door, but she's not at home, and immediately we went to the police," said Ms Chong.
The police visited Ms Cui's flat and confirmed that she had disappeared, before launching investigations and finding that Khoo was the last person who interacted with Ms Cui.
BODY NEVER RECOVERED
He was arrested on Jul 20 and led officers to Ms Cui's remains at a deserted road at Lim Chu Kang Lane 8, near some dairy farms.
Although her body was never recovered, there was ample evidence that she was burnt there, as clusters of debris and charcoal were seen at the spot where Khoo claimed he had burnt the body.
Pieces of fabric were found to be very likely part of a dress similar to ones that Ms Cui owned and a hook-like metal object which was found at the site resembled brassieres recovered from Ms Cui's flat.
DNA analysis of a few hairs found at the scene were linked to the DNA profile of Ms Cui's mother.
When Khoo took police officers to the grisly scene, he smiled and told them that there was "nothing left", the prosecution said.
Khoo sat in the dock in his purple prison outfit on the first day of the trial on Tuesday, listening to proceedings in a packed courtroom and reading from documents.
According to another witness Ms Wu Wenjuan, Ms Cui's friend and colleague, Ms Cui had met Khoo after trying unsuccessfully to make up with an ex-boyfriend.
VICTIM MET KHOO WHILE CRYING OVER AN EX-BOYFRIEND: WITNESS
Speaking on the witness stand through a Mandarin interpreter, Ms Wu said she had hit it off with Ms Cui as they were both from China, and that Ms Cui regularly updated her on her relationship with Khoo every day over lunch.
She said Ms Cui had first met Khoo after she went to her ex-boyfriend's home in hopes of restoring their relationship.
However, he did not open the door, and she cried "very badly" outside his home. Khoo, who lived on the same floor, saw Ms Cui and asked her what happened.
"Leslie drove Yajie home, and on the way, told her 'you are such a good girl, (your ex) doesn't know how to appreciate you, it's his loss'," said Ms Wu.
He then asked her to be his girlfriend, and she agreed after about a month, becoming intimate quickly after.
Ms Cui believed Khoo's explanation that he had divorced his wife for about three years, Ms Wu said.
According to the prosecution, she became increasingly unhappy that Khoo spent so much time with his "ex-wife", who was really still his wife, and his son that they had heated quarrels frequently.
They also argued about the money Ms Cui had given Khoo for purported investments, and Khoo in early July 2016 asked an ex-lover to remit RMB50,000 (about S$10,000) to Ms Cui's father, saying that it was an "investment" for Khoo's supposed laundry business.
VICTIM CONTACTED KHOO'S WIFE A DAY BEFORE ALLEGED MURDER
A day before the alleged murder, Khoo found out that Ms Cui had sent his wife a Facebook message which read: "You hv been already divorced, so please leave Leslie Far … …away!!! Don’t cheat everybody & show off as a family any longer!!!."
His wife then confronted him for cheating on her, but Khoo denied knowing Ms Cui.
The prosecution said Khoo needed to stop Ms Cui from destroying his reputation, as she would set off a chain of inquiry exposing his trickery and lies.
As part of its case, the prosecution intends to call 72 witnesses, including Khoo's ex-girlfriends, Ms Cui's parents, and victims of separate cheating charges whose evidence the prosecution said will provide context to the murder.
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Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Wen Hsien portrayed Khoo as a "charlatan" who had lied to Ms Cui, saying that he was single or divorced, and that he owned a laundry business even though he was merely an employee.
On top of this, he had taken money from Ms Cui for "investment" in gold, and owed her S$10,000 by the time of her death. He is also accused of swindling S$65,000 from four other women.
DEFENCE RELYING ON DIMINISHED RESPONSIBILITY
Over the course of the trial, the prosecution will also refer to 10 statements recorded from Khoo, in which he admitted that he strangled Ms Cui around the neck until she stopped moving and was dead.
Khoo's defence lawyer Mervyn Cheong will seek to prove that Khoo has diminished responsibility, acted on grave and sudden provocation, or that a sudden fight broke out.
The defence will be relying on a doctor's assessment of Khoo as having Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which the prosecution disputes.
Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim said there were no eyewitnesses to the offence. The evidence will "largely turn on the accused's own testimony" as well as circumstantial evidence.
The trial is set to resume on Tuesday afternoon and will run daily for the rest of the week.
If found guilty of murder with the intention of causing such bodily injury as he knows to be likely to cause the death of the person, Khoo can be sentenced to death or jailed for life and caned.