Saudi diplomat’s lawyer ordered to pay costs for ‘frivolous’ application to Court of Appeal

Saudi diplomat’s lawyer ordered to pay costs for ‘frivolous’ application to Court of Appeal

SINGAPORE: The lawyer of disgraced Saudi diplomat Bander Yahya A Alzahrani was on Thursday (Feb 8) ordered by the Court of Appeal to pay the Attorney-General’s Chambers S$5,000 in costs for lodging an “improper and unreasonable” application on behalf of his client.

Lawyer Peter Pang said he had advised Alzahrani and the Saudi embassy that the application was likely to fail, but that they had “insisted that I should proceed”. He was rapped by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon for abuse of process. 

Alzahrani’s appeal against his conviction and sentence had been dismissed by the High Court in July last year.

Following this, Mr Pang, acting on his clients’ instructions, filed an application to refer questions of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal.

However, his “questions” alleged that Alzahrani’s previous lawyer had made a blunder in conducting his defence, and that the diplomat had not had a fair and impartial trial.

The apex court – including CJ Menon and Judges of Appeal Tay Yong Kwang and Judith Prakash – threw out Mr Pang’s application.

“That is not a question of law, much less a question of law of public interest … that is a question of fact,” the CJ said, noting that the High Court judge had addressed these issues at Alzahrani’s appeal when he affirmed the conviction and sentence.

“The present application is a classic example of a back-door appeal,” Deputy Public Prosecutors Hay Hung Chun and Kenny Yap said.

They sought S$5,000 in costs against Mr Pang. “Counsel should have known better than to facilitate the filing of this frivolous application,” they told the court.

CJ Menon noted that Mr Pang had been told by the High Court that what he had put forward were not "questions of law" and therefore unlikely to be allowed. Still, the lawyer persisted and, in doing so, had conducted himself unreasonably, the apex court said.

The S$5,000 will be given to the Law Society of Singapore, which administers the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.

Alzahrani, 40, was sentenced to 26 months and one week in jail and four strokes of the cane in February last year, after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female hotel employee.

Alzahrani, who was attached to the Saudi embassy in Beijing, was on holiday in Singapore in 2016 with his wife and three children when he committed the offences.

He was alone with a 20-year-old intern in a hotel room when he groped her and forced her to touch him, prosecutors said. Alzahrani also lifted the young woman’s dress and rubbed his groin against her buttocks, they added.

He was convicted of two charges of aggravated outrage of modesty and one charge of using criminal force.

Alzahrani is not protected by diplomatic immunity in Singapore because he was stationed in Beijing.

Currently serving his jail term, he appeared in court on Thursday in handcuffs and dressed in a purple prison jumpsuit.