SINGAPORE: A former lawyer from top law firm Drew & Napier turned up in court on Monday (Nov 11) to contest charges of molesting a colleague and taking intimate photos of her.
The lawyer, who cannot be named due to gag orders issued by the court, is now with a different law firm.
He is accused of molesting an unidentified woman by pressing his thigh against her upper arm at the law firm at Ocean Financial Centre in Collyer Quay, on Oct 11, 2017.
The other three charges allege that he insulted the same woman's modesty by taking photos of her underwear at the Ocean Financial Centre on Oct 11, 2017, and of her chest and underwear on two occasions in April 2017.
The trial opened on Monday with investigation officer Thanabalan Kothandapani taking the stand.
The lawyer, who graduated with top honours from a local university, contested admissions of guilt he made in statements given to the officer, claiming that the officer had induced him into giving the statement by promising to close the case if he did so.
According to the accused, Mr Thanabalan offered to close his case if he agreed to three conditions: To admit to the offences, to apologise and to divulge where the photos were.
The lawyer claimed that at the police station, he saw another female colleague, whom he assumed was there in relation to his case.
He then sent four emails to the victim and to this colleague, apologising and hoping to avoid having the matter "blow up".
In his email to the victim, read out in court, he said he was sorry for everything, adding that his mother was sick.
"I can't afford for this to blow up. I can resign and everything, but my family can't know about this," he wrote. "I am on the verge of taking my own life and it is just my friends who are keeping me alive."
"I've always treated you sincerely and honestly save for the times when I was very stressed and I committed those mistakes. I didn't keep any footage. I always deleted them within minutes (because) I will feel so guilty. Please please please have mercy on me," he wrote.
To the colleague he saw at the police station, the lawyer wrote three emails repeating what he said to the victim, that he could not afford for the matter to blow up, asking for mercy and saying: "I am here today to come clean. I think they will arrest me later. I'm sorry ... I really loved the team".
When cross-examined by Deputy Public Prosecutor Marshall Lim, the lawyer said Mr Thanabalan did tell him that it was "a serious matter that could go to the Law Society".
He said he "did not think there was anything weird", as he thought investigation officers had the power to refer matters or choose not to refer matters to the Attorney-General's Chambers.
He said he signed a statement without reading it as the investigation officer had said the victim did not want to pursue the matter.
"You know the law," said the prosecutor. "You know that such an inducement leading to a statement is not going to work. It's going to run afoul of the law. You know that."
"What I know is that statements induced or procured by threat inducement or promise cannot be used in court, but I didn't know at that time that it couldn't be used to close a matter and I didn't think there was a problem as long as the statement wasn't used in court," said the accused.
"I'm curious that as a trained lawyer you would not (tell him) that you would not participate in such an offer," said the prosecutor.
EVEN A LAWYER WOULDN'T BE IN THE RIGHT STATE OF MIND: ACCUSED
"I think at that point in time I was already in shock," answered the accused. "When such allegations are made against you for the first time in your life, and I mean, even if a person is a lawyer, you really wouldn't be in the right state of mind to articulate the law as you would in normal circumstances or even in law school."
The court heard about how the accused had two opposing views from two friends, one his best friend who was not trained in the law and the other a batchmate who was also a lawyer at Drew and Napier.
The untrained friend told him to take up the offer, while the lawyer said he was unsure if the investigation officer could live up to what he promised.
He claimed he took up the offer as he had already made up his mind to do so.
"Why would a police officer lie to me?" he said repeatedly while on the stand.
He also said he wanted to close the matter, and did not want to have it blown up even more with potential publicity and charges in court.
He described the "disbelief and shock" he experienced after giving the statements, saying he was lying on his bed "the whole night" struggling to process what was happening.
"It started to dawn on me, like, oh my God, how am I going to handle this?" said the young lawyer, who is represented by counsel Tan Hee Joek.
He put off telling his parents about the incident in the two years between the investigations and the charging.
The trial continues on Tuesday.
If found guilty of outraging the victim's modesty, he could be jailed for up to two years, fined, caned or given any combination of these punishments.
If convicted of insulting a woman's modesty, he could be jailed for up to a year, fined or both.
In response to queries from CNA, a spokesperson for Drew & Napier said "appropriate steps were taken when the allegations came to light".
"Our firm has a strict zero-tolerance policy towards misconduct of any nature," she said. "Our colleagues work hard to maintain a supportive and respectful work environment with an open-door policy.
"We are fully committed to ensuring that every single member of our firm feels safe, and that reported cases of misconduct, sexual or otherwise are responded to swiftly."
She added that the firm cannot comment further at this time, as the matter is before the courts.