SINGAPORE: It was in the "public interest" for the police to reveal the criminal history of the man who took Mr Li Yipeng, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's eldest son, for a ride last month, Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam wrote in his response to a question in Parliament on Monday (Apr 1).
This was so that the police could give "a fuller explanation and background" as to why officers were investigating the matter. Mr Shanmugam said that the public might "misunderstand the police's actions" if the police did not set out their security concerns.
A police report was lodged last month after videos emerged on social media of Mr Lee’s son, who was offered a ride in a private car on Mar 15. In the video, the driver can be heard repeatedly asking Mr Li about his identity, residential address and security arrangements.
Police shared the man's criminal history in their statements to the media.
Mr Shanmugam was asked by Workers' Party Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim about the regulations and guidelines in place to ensure that authorities and the media did not publish prejudicial information about suspects in ongoing investigations and proceedings.
Ms Lim also asked if the "prior criminal history and out-of-court records" of the man who allegedly uploaded the videos of Mr Li "have been divulged to the media by the police or other public agency or official and, if so, why".
“When asked by the media, the police confirmed these investigations. The Minister for Home Affairs directed the police to state the man’s antecedents, without disclosing his name," Mr Shanmugam explained in his written answer.
"It was in the public interest for the police to give a fuller explanation and background why they were investigating the matter.
"If the police did not set out their security concerns, the public may not grasp why the police were investigating the matter, and may even misunderstand the police's actions.
"It was important to provide the public relevant and specific facts, in order to maintain public confidence in the police force."
Mr Shanmugam stated the man's criminal antecedents in his response, including his previous conviction in 2014 for taking a vehicle without its owner's consent under the Road Traffic Act.
It also included an offence of driving a motor vehicle without insurance, in respect to third-party risks under the Motor Vehicles (Third-Party Risks and Compensation) Act.
The man had also been given a warning for a theft in dwelling in 2002 and a report was made against him for criminal intimidation in 2014, the minister wrote in his answer.
NOT POSSIBLE IN ALL CASES TO WAIT FOR TRIAL
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that decisions made by the police on what information to disclose "are guided by existing legal requirements".
"With the proliferation of social media, public agencies will from time to time need to release information faster than used to be the case," he said.
“It may not always be possible in all cases to wait for a trial to commence or be concluded, a process which may take weeks or months, before releasing relevant facts to the public.
"When the police assess that it is necessary to release information earlier, they will do so, while being careful not to prejudice any investigations or legal proceedings that may follow."
Mr Shanmugam shared more details about the incident in his response.
He said that the car that the man had driven was not licensed for ride-sharing, and that ride-hailing company Grab had terminated the man’s contract last November for driving a car without proper decals and for suspected touting.
The driver recognised Mr Li, who was waiting for a hail taxi, and decided to pick him up, the minister said.
"Mr Li is a vulnerable person. It is public knowledge that Mr Li has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and in non-verbal communication. This is compounded by Mr Li's albinism, which results in [him] having very poor eyesight," Mr Shanmugam added.
"Leaving aside Mr Li's background, it is very troubling when an individual picks up any vulnerable person, whether adult or child, and puts that person in such a situation," he said.
"The man put Mr Li in an uncomfortable situation, apparently exploited the situation, filmed it, and then circulated it."
The police were concerned for Mr Li’s security, Mr Shanmugam said.
"The man made repeated references to Rochalie Drive, and pressed Mr Li on the security arrangements at PM's home. The questions he asked showed that he already knew Mr Li’s identity," the minister added.