Parti Liyani case: Police investigation officer, supervisor found to have 'neglected their duties', says K Shanmugam
SINGAPORE: The police investigation officer and his supervisor involved in Ms Parti Liyani’s case have been fined after internal investigations found that they had "neglected their duties", Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in Parliament on Monday (Feb 14).
He was responding to a question from Member of Parliament Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang) for an update on the internal investigations conducted against the police officers involved in the case of Parti Liyani.
Ms Parti was convicted in March 2019 of stealing more than S$30,000 worth of items from ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong and his family, but the conviction was overturned by the High Court on Sep 4, 2020.
"Neglect of duty means the failure to take proper action to perform a required task," said Mr Shanmugam.
The investigation officer who handled the police report handled it as a routine theft case, and it was so, but there were some lapses, said the minister.
The investigation officer did not visit the scene of the crime "promptly" to carry out the investigation and gather evidence.
“This contributed to a break in the chain of custody for some exhibits,” he said.
He added that the investigation officer did not “properly verify” some of the claims made by the parties during the investigation.
His supervisor did not provide "sufficient guidance", which contributed to the lapses, Mr Shanmugam said.
The penalty for neglect of duty depends on the officers’ degree of culpability, and the harm caused by their actions, the minister said, adding that penalties can range from a reprimand or financial penalty, to demotion and dismissal from service.
A financial penalty in the "medium range" was imposed on both officers for neglect of duty.
Responding to a supplementary question from MP Sylvia Lim (WP-Aljunied) if the officer and the supervisor were punished "similarly", Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the "amounts, fine imposed on two officers" were different.
"It is different. I should clarify that they were calculated by reference to the number of months of increment that they would have gotten. The number of months is the same for both officers, but the amounts they paid is different and that’s the fine that’s been imposed," he added.
The Public Service Commission, the authority for disciplinary control of civil servants, has concurred with the penalty imposed on both officers, he said.
The police's Internal Affairs Office also took into account the "intense pressure" that the investigation officer was working under, the minister said.
He was handling many ongoing investigations, prosecutions, and conducting arrest operations at the same time, he added.
"I have spoken before about the workload challenges that police investigation officers face. The only way to deal with this is to increase police headcount. We have not solved that issue yet. This is a difficult problem, not easily solvable, because of the general manpower shortage," he said.
Up until the incident, the officer and supervisor have discharged their duties "dutifully", Mr Shanmugam said.
"I have sympathy for the situation they find themselves in. But, they have ... fallen short of expectations. And they have been dealt with, in the way other officers would have been dealt with, in similar circumstances," he added.
The maximum financial penalty imposed under the Public Service Commission (Delegation of Disciplinary Functions) Directions is a fine equivalent to the stoppage of increment for two years, he said.
When the Internal Affairs Office started its investigations against the two officers, Mr Shanmugam made clear that the approach must always be to conduct investigations "without fear or favour" and not "look to scapegoat or act unfairly".
"We do not go out to blame and punish, just because there has been a lot of public interest in the matter, and because some call for heavy punishment. We must deal with the case as we would deal with any other case, regardless of publicity. And we must deal with it professionally and properly," he said.
Police officers have to often exercise their judgment and discretion in the course of their duties, sometimes on an "urgent basis" but always under "some sort of pressure", he said.
"We cannot fault officers just because we think, with the benefit of hindsight, that we would have exercised discretion differently in their situation, or just because we do not agree with their judgment or exercise of discretion," he said.
The officers must know that action will be taken against them, only if there are discipline issues or misconduct, or some breach, he added.