SINGAPORE: As the new year begins, CNA takes a look back at the most read court cases in 2019, with several murders making the headlines and politically significant cases unfolding before the judges.
Here are 10 cases heard in both the State and High Courts last year.
1. Orchard Towers death
On Jul 2, 2019, 31-year-old Satheesh Noel Gobidass collapsed at the entrance of Orchard Towers after a brawl. Closed-circuit television footage showed him walking slowly before collapsing.
He was pronounced dead in hospital, and six men and a woman were charged with murder with common intention two days later.
Of the seven, only one is accused of possessing an offensive weapon - 27-year-old Tan Sen Yang, who allegedly had a foldable Karambit knife at Naughty Girl Club on the morning of the incident.
Four of the accused later had their charges reduced, and one of these, 22-year-old Tan Hong Sheng, jumped bail and failed to turn up in court for a hearing. He was later arrested and given a fresh charge of rioting.
The case cast a spotlight on Orchard Towers, which has gained a seedy reputation over the years.
2. Death of NSF Liu Kai
Corporal First Class Liu, 22, was driving a Land Rover during a field training exercise at a training facility in November 2018 when a Bionix Infantry Fighting Vehicle reversed into his vehicle, partially mounting it.
Three men were fined between S$1,500 and S$3,000 in December for taking or sharing photos of the incident, while the other cases are pending.
3. The unlikely tale of Chandran and Naidu
This case was littered with unexpected twists and turns.
James Nalla Rajan Naidu Adhiseshan's 13-year run from the law came to an end when he bumped into a man, freshly released from prison, whose identification card he had been misusing to see a doctor.
The man had kindly offered to help wheel the fugitive to the counter at Sengkang General Hospital and recognised the identity card as his own.
The case was widely shared and spawned memes on the Internet, with many commenting on how remarkable their meeting was.
4. Woodlands double deaths
Several murder cases went to trial last year, but the Woodlands double deaths may be one of the most tragic, resulting in the deaths of a little girl, her pregnant mother and the unborn foetus that had been carried for six months in the womb. The charge involving the foetus was stood down.
Teo Ghim Heng, 43, went on trial for strangling his 39-year-old wife and their four-year-old daughter, who “cried softly, then loudly” as a towel was looped around her neck.
He set fire to the bodies and slept next to the charred remains for more than a week until his wife’s brother forced open a window after smelling what he thought was gas and called the police
During the trial, details of the family's life came to light - including of how Teo earned a basic salary of S$1,500 as a sales coordinator and had S$70,000 in unpaid debts, while paying S$850 a month in school fees for his daughter.
The court heard that he had argued with his wife on the day of the incident. He claimed that she had chided him for not being able to provide for the family and told their daughter how useless he was.
The trial continues in 2020.
5. The case of the boy who was scalded to death
In November, details of how a boy died from nearly 70 per cent burn injuries after being scalded with hot water over a period of time shocked the nation.
His parents went on trial for murder, with prosecutors charging that they had systematically abused their five-year-old boy, freshly returned to them after being privately fostered out for about four years.
The boy was repeatedly splashed with hot water, pinched with pliers, hit with household tools and kept in a cage for a cat barely big enough for him.
The boy’s father was depicted as someone with low intellect and anti-social personality traits who was disciplining an unruly child.
6. A beauty queen, a businessman and a banquet waiter
His mistress was cheating on him with a banquet waiter. That did not sit well with businessman Lim Hong Liang, 55, who had been lavishing former Miss Mermaid, 28-year-old Audrey Chen Ying, with gifts like a car and the services of a maid.
He paid hitmen S$5,000 to attack the younger man, who was himself married to another woman, twice.
The attacks left the victim with a permanent scar on his mouth, and Lim was convicted and sentenced to six years' jail.
The love triangle led to seven men being taken to court over the case, with five of them receiving sentences of up to 14-and-a-half years' jail.
7. The Aljunied Hougang Town Council case
In a verdict which could have political repercussions, the High Court found three Workers’ Party (WP) Members of Parliament liable in a landmark case involving the misuse of town council funds.
The civil suits were brought by AHTC and Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council (PRPTC) against eight defendants including Low Thia Khiang, Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh as well as other town councillors.
The verdict came a year after a trial which was well-covered by CNA.
A month later a motion was passed in Parliament calling for the three WP leaders to recuse themselves from financial matters at AHTC.
In response, AHTC said the leaders need not recuse themselves, with the WP leaders and town councillors filing an appeal.
A second tranche of hearings will decide on the damages if any.
If the WP MPs are declared bankrupt because they cannot pay the damages, they will lose their parliamentary seats as undischarged bankrupts cannot be MPs nor contest in parliamentary elections.
8. The other town council court case - Ang Mo Kio Town Council
Another case involved the former general manager of Ang Mo Kio Town Council (AMKTC). He took a steady stream of bribes from a director whose companies did work for the town council.
Both men were sentenced to jail in November after pleading guilty to their corresponding corruption charges midway through a trial.
Victor Wong Chee Meng, 59, was sentenced to 27 months' jail while 64-year-old Chia Sin Lan, whose two companies provided construction services to town councils, received 21 months' jail.
Chia's two companies were fined S$75,000 each, and Wong has to pay a penalty of about S$23,000 for gratification received.
Witnesses during the trial described how the pair had regularly gone to KTV lounges and to “hang flowers” or adorn hostesses with garlands, spending thousands in a single bill.
9. Leong Sze Hian v Lee Hsien Loong
The court also heard applications and appeals over the defamation suit brought by the Prime Minister against blogger Leong Sze Hian, over the sharing of an article that claimed Mr Lee helped his former Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak launder money.
Mr Leong was represented by Lim Tean, lawyer and founder of opposition party Peoples Voice, and the pair filed appeals even before the case went to trial - once against a judge’s dismissal of their counterclaim that Mr Lee was abusing court process, and again in the Apex Court.
The latest failed appeal, heard in September, saw three judges reiterate that his argument of abuse of process was not part of Singapore's law.
They also ordered Mr Leong to pay the Prime Minister costs of S$20,000.
The Chief Justice pointed out that a plaintiff has the right to pick who to sue for defamation, in response to Mr Lim saying his client was the only one out of close to 10,000 people who shared the offending link who was sued.
CJ Sundaresh Menon also questioned Mr Lim's allegation that Mr Lee had used "state machinery" to shut down critics and sue Mr Leong.
When asked if the court was the machinery of the State, Mr Lim backed down and said it was not what he meant, clarifying that Mr Lee had "government machinery at his disposal".
Justice Andrew Phang added that a court is "not a court of politics" and said anyone has a right to sue for defamation, "be you ever so high or ever so low".
The suit will go to trial at a later date.
10. Doctor linked to HIV data leak stands trial
A doctor linked to the leak of thousands of records from Singapore’s HIV registry took to the court to appeal against his sentence after being convicted for lying to government ministries and then again to conduct his own defence in a trial for drug offences.
Dr Ler Teck Siang’s partner Mikhy Brochez was convicted in the United States of leaking the data that he obtained in Singapore, and Ler had access to the HIV registry as part of his work as the former head of the National Public Health Unit. The pair started living together in Singapore in 2008, and were married in New York City in 2014.
Dr Ler failed in his appeal in March against his conviction and two-year jail sentence for abetting Brochez to cheat the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) regarding Brochez's HIV-positive status, and of giving false information to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the police.
Months later in May, Dr Ler stood trial over selling illegal drug injections to clients, concocting his own defence with props like syringes and giving elaborate explanations for items found on him.
He claimed that he was not providing illegal drug injections but instead giving prostate massages, saying he used a meth-stained syringe found on him to flush out food particles from his teeth, and using a straw not for drugs but to fold origami.
He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 months’ jail in October by a judge who found his evidence “disingenuous and illogical” and said he was “incredulous” at some of his explanations.
Dr Ler's medical registration was suspended for nine months, the Singapore Medical Council said in March.