Prosecution calls for higher sentence in landmark maid abuse case, reversal of acquitted charge
SINGAPORE: The prosecution on Friday (Aug 2) appealed to a High Court judge to increase the sentence of a man convicted of maid abuse and to reverse an acquittal of a charge his wife faced.
Former IT manager Tay Wee Kiat, 41, had received two years' jail for his part in the abuse of 31-year-old maid Moe Moe Than in 2012.
His wife Chia Yun Ling, 43, was sentenced to three years and 11 months' jail and fined S$4,000 for 15 charges.
The maid from Myanmar had been force-fed a mixture of rice and sugar with a funnel after complaining of not having enough to eat. When she ran to the toilet choking, she was instructed to throw up inside a plastic bag and eat her vomit.
She was also caned, slapped and hit with a broomstick, and slept less than six hours a day on a mattress in the living room without a pillow or blanket.
The prosecution turned to the High Court to appeal for three years and two months' jail for Tay, an increase of 14 months, and for his wife to be convicted of a charge that the district judge had acquitted her of.
MAID NOT PAID SALARY: PROSECUTOR
Chia had been acquitted of failing to pay Ms Than a salary after District Judge Olivia Ho found that Chia possessed documentary evidence proving otherwise. The evidence included a document signed by Ms Than, a note and bank documents.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Kumaresan Gohulabalan argued that if Ms Than had been found to be a credible witness by the district judge, there would be no reason for her not to be found credible in her testimony that she had not been paid her salary.
He added that the defence had been "concocted" along the way as the trial went on, adding that Ms Than did not know what she was signing off on when she put her signature on a savings schedule stating that she had fully received her salary.
As for a note she penned stating that she had received all her salary, Ms Than had written it as she was afraid that Chia would hit her if she did not comply, said the prosecutor.
The note read: “I Moe Moe Than, confirm my employer has paid me all my salary and loan. I have taken all my money. Now I want to go home, so I buy my air ticket. I never finish my contract but I want to go home now. I cannot follow employer’s instructions. I cannot do work (or) take care children, I have no heart to work. I miss home.”
Chia claimed that Ms Than had written this note herself, but Ms Than testified that she had written it as Chia dictated it to her.
When the prosecutor said there was no reason for Ms Than to include such self-incriminatory information in the note if she had not been told to do so, Chia, who was sitting in the dock, rolled her eyes.
She sat a few feet away from her husband. They were both clad in prison purple.
COUPLE UNREPRESENTED, DISCHARGED DEFENCE LAWYER
The couple was unrepresented and their previous defence counsel Wee Pan Lee had told the court at the sentencing that his clients had exhausted all their resources for the trial.
"Ms Moe Moe Than was a foreign domestic worker," said the prosecutor. "She came to Singapore ... She will remember she was not paid. At the end of the huge amount of torture she suffered, this was a person who did not receive any salary. She did not have anything to show for it."
He said the acquittal of this charge was against the evidence and the version of events stated by the victim, and there was "no reason" for the lower court judge to acquit Chia.
TAY SHOULD GET MORE JAIL TIME: PROSECUTOR
Turning to Tay, Mr Kumaresan explained his reasons for a higher sentence, pointing to the lack of remorse.
Before being sentenced for the abuse of Ms Moe Moe Than, Tay and his wife had already been convicted of abusing another maid, Ms Fitriyah, who worked for them at the same time as Ms Than.
Some of the charges overlap, including an occasion when Tay made the two maids slap each other and assaulted them in order to make them pray to a Buddhist altar 100 times, even though Ms Than was Christian and Ms Fitriyah Muslim.
Tay had appealed against the conviction for this charge but lost, and his claiming trial for Ms Than's case, which "mirrored" Ms Fitriyah's, was indicative of a lack of remorse, said Mr Kumaresan.
Tay "systematically abused" Ms Than over 11 months, he added, and the nature of abuse was "particularly violent" and degrading.
He hit Ms Than over her buttocks, ordered her to go into a push-up position and kicked her.
"The cruelty in which Tay treated Ms Than reflects the lack of regard he had for a human being," said Mr Kumaresan.
I DID PAY HER: TAY
When Justice Hoo Sheau Peng turned to Chia and asked her if she had anything to say on top of a letter she had written as part of her submissions, Chia stood and appeared emotional.
"I did pay her," she said in a shaky voice. "It is a very simple process and I don't understand why the prosecution made it so difficult for me. It's only very easily done on two occasions."
When it was her husband's turn to speak, he said he was confused as he was not legally trained to understand what the prosecution was asking for.
The pair said in their written submissions that they had discharged their counsel as they had financial difficulties.
Tay said in his submissions that he prayed for the court to give him and his wife a chance to correct themselves.
"Both myself and my spouse humbly and sincerely seek the honourable court to kindly review our case with mercy and leniency, as we are both first-time offenders," he wrote. "And being local Singaporeans all our lives, we have always been (observing) the laws and respectful of its systems."
He wrote that the past six or more years had been "traumatising and devastating" for him and his wife.
"We have lost our career, our jobs, our income and savings, our reputation and health," he said. "We are also very guilt-stricken on the burden we have imposed on my old aged parents."
His 69-year-old father is supporting his three grandchildren, wrote Tay.
The judge adjourned the case to Aug 20 for a decision to be made.
The sentences the couple are serving are for abusing the second maid, Ms Than.
For abusing the other maid Ms Fitriyah, Tay had been given 43 months’ jail, an increase from 28 months’ jail upon appeal, while his wife had received a two-month prison sentence.
The case will be heard again in High Court to determine how they will serve these sentences.