SINGAPORE: A man accused of physically abusing a domestic helper in his household was acquitted of all four charges on Wednesday (Jul 21), after the judge found the maid's evidence inconsistent and incoherent.
Alan Tan Chai Soon, 49, was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal for three counts of voluntarily causing hurt to a domestic helper, and one count of using criminal force on her.
He was accused of slapping, pinching and clamping the lips of Filipina Cabacungan Leezel Mina at a condominium in eastern Singapore between April and June in 2018.
Ms Leezel accused Mr Tan of slapping her face with both hands for having too much water in the rice cooker. She claimed he also slapped her for having too much water in a pail for mopping the floor.
On another occasion, Ms Leezel said Mr Tan pinched her arm as she had operated the light switches incorrectly. That incident, she said, left a bruise on her. She also accused him of pinching her face and "clamping" her lips with his hand after asking her to speak louder.
The judge acquitted Mr Tan of all charges, finding the maid's evidence conflicting, confusing, incoherent and inconsistent.
Mr Tan had denied all the charges. His lawyer, Amarjit Singh, told the court that Ms Leezel worked in Mr Tan's household for about eight months.
On Jun 3, 2018, Ms Leezel left the residence for her usual Sunday day off, and did not return. Instead, she went to the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), an organisation that provides assistance to domestic workers, and alleged that Mr Tan had abused her.
A Ministry of Manpower officer subsequently lodged a report with the police.
Several witnesses were called to testify in the trial, including Ms Leezel, investigating officers, doctors, a moneylender who lent money to Ms Leezel, and Mr Tan and his wife.
Mr Singh argued that Ms Leezel had made the allegations as she wanted a transfer to another household in Singapore, to avoid getting sent back to the Philippines.
The couple had told her on multiple occasions that they intended to send her home if she failed to improve her work performance, said Mr Singh.
Mr Tan's complaints about Ms Leezel's work performance include that she had crossed the road dangerously with his son, said Mr Singh. When Mr Tan told her to be careful of traffic, she said it was not dangerous despite a car honking at her and Mr Tan's son, he added.
Mr Tan claimed Ms Leezel had difficulty understanding instructions such as not mixing white clothes with coloured ones in the laundry, and how to cook rice.
A doctor who testified in the trial confirmed observing a bruise on Ms Leezel's arm, but said it could have been caused by other mechanisms and that there were no other injuries observed. There was also a possibility that the bruise was self-inflicted, he said.
LOANS FROM SIX MONEYLENDERS
A loan officer from Credit Empire, a licensed moneylender, testified that Ms Leezel took a loan of S$500 on May 13, 2018. She was to repay the loan, along with an interest of S$91.38, by Jun 13, 2018.
She did not do so and letters of demand were sent to the address on Ms Leezel's work permit. The loan was classified as a bad debt in November 2018 as the borrower was uncontactable.
A separate report from Moneylenders Credit Bureau also showed that at the time of her loan with Credit Empire, Ms Leezel had outstanding loans of S$2,726.86 to five other licensed moneylenders.
During the trial, Mr Tan and his wife testified that they had previously warned Ms Leezel against borrowing money.
Mr Tan testified that the trio had watched a television programme on May 25, 2018 that featured foreign domestic workers borrowing money from licensed moneylenders.
At that point, said Mr Tan, he told her to let him or his wife know if she needed financial help and warned her that she would be sent home if she borrowed money.
Defence lawyer Mr Singh argued that Ms Leezel had gone to HOME and not to the police as she wanted a transfer.
Had Mr Tan been convicted of voluntarily causing hurt, he could have been sentenced to a maximum two years, a fine of up to S$5,000, or both per charge. As the offence was against a maid, he could have received up to one-and-a-half times the maximum punishment.