Couple allowed to return to China before COVID-19 trial continues, prosecution seeks review of decision
SINGAPORE: A judge on Friday (Oct 9) allowed a Chinese couple on trial for withholding information from health officers and obstructing COVID-19 contact tracing to return to China before the next tranche of their trial in January.
Both sides argued for and against the decision, with the defence asking that his clients be allowed to return as they have spent a long time away from home and for business reasons, and the prosecutor against the move as he said they may abscond.
District Judge Ng Peng Hong granted the application for Hu Jun, 39, and his wife Shi Sha, 37, to leave Singapore for China and return in January before the trial.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh successfully asked for a stay of this order, for it to be put on hold pending a review of the decision in the High Court.
Defence lawyer Dhanwant Singh said his clients wanted to leave immediately and return by Jan 20 next year, "well before the trial".
He said his clients have been away from home since Jan 22, and it will be almost a full year that they have been away by the next tranche of the trial.
READ: China couple claim trial to withholding information from officers, obstructing contact tracing
"It is the livelihood of Mr Hu Jun that is adversely affected," he said. "He works as a financial adviser ... he works in this line where he has been in charge of investments ranging to millions of dollars and (his presence in China) is crucial in the sense that personal touch with the clients is important."
He said Hu's livelihood is "at stake because his career is at a crossroads" and his presence in China is a priority.
Hu and Shi have two children aged four and 10, and both are in China as well as the couple's parents and in-laws. Shi has been separated from her children for "quite a number of months", her lawyer said.
He said there was no likelihood of them not returning as they are "still innocent until proven guilty" and the case is well-known in Singapore and in China, "so they are too well-known to be away".
"The whole of Singapore, your honour, the whole of Wuhan or the rest of China – in fact on the Internet – they are well-known about the case," said Mr Singh.
He suggested an increase of bail of up to S$30,000 each to ensure their return.
THEY WILL ABSCOND: PROSECUTOR
Deputy Public Prosecutor Timotheus Koh objected to the application, saying that neither Hu or Shi has any ties or roots in Singapore.
"All we have is really the accused persons' say that they will not abscond. This is not sufficient," he said. The defence has not provided any documentary evidence, other than Hu's contact card, to show that his situation is "so dire that he has to save his employment and return to China".
Mr Koh highlighted that when trial dates were given on Sep 11, for the next tranche of the trial to be held between Jan 25 and Jan 28, there was no indication by the defence that the accused pair wanted to leave Singapore.
The prosecutor stressed that Hu and Shi are flight risks and it is "highly likely they will not return" and instead will abscond and leave the jurisdiction. He said the proposed increase of bail by S$30,000 each is not sufficient to ensure their return.
The judge asked the couple's bailors to share their views. Hu's bailor said Hu is "very established in China for a very big financial firm, so this case already has a very negative impact".
"He has explained this to me and I am very happy to provide any assistance to make sure he comes back," he said.
Shi's bailor agreed, and said that from his two years of knowing Shi, he trusts that she will return.
READ: Prosecution concludes case in trial of China couple accused of obstructing COVID-19 contact tracing
SHI ADDRESSES COURT
Shi addressed the court via a Mandarin interpreter and said that since her husband arrived in Singapore in January, they "have taken the proactive step to go to the hospital for testing and examination".
"We have not infected anyone here in Singapore and we have been very cooperative in investigation. Therefore we will also very responsibly come back to Singapore," said Shi.
She added that one of her children is only four years old and has recently undergone an operation.
"I miss my children a lot," she said, adding that her husband is the sole breadwinner and his clients have indicated that they want to "withdraw the funds" in relation to his business.
"Your honour, the Ministry of Health has already openly made known the charges that we face, therefore we have already faced a lot of criticisms and unfair treatment from a lot of people, so we have already been facing the punishment," said Shi, adding that she took her children to Singapore for education because she has "love for this land".
"I will not do anything to damage it. We will definitely come back to prove our innocence," she said.
Judge Ng said he considered the submissions and granted the application for Hu and Shi to leave the country, but with certain conditions.
He increased bail by S$80,000 each and ordered them to furnish travel itineraries to the investigating officer before their departure.
They must provide details of where they will be staying, along with their contact numbers, and remain contactable. They also have to surrender their passports by Jan 22, 2021.
The prosecution had concluded its case in August this year. Hu and Shi are accused of obstructing contact tracing efforts by health authorities by omitting information about their whereabouts.
If convicted of the offences, both husband and wife face penalties of up to six months' jail, a maximum S$10,000 fine or both, for each charge.