Filipina helper in SG acquitted of theft, said boss compensated her for his sexual advances

South China Morning Post by Today Online

Posted at Nov 03 2020 01:56 PM

A Filipina domestic worker was on Friday cleared of stealing S$8,000 (US$5,800) from her elderly Singapore employer, after appealing against her conviction and sentence.

The woman was found guilty earlier this year on 10 charges of theft, allegedly committed in January and February 2017. After the nine-day trial, she was sentenced to one year in jail.

She appealed to the High Court and was represented by lawyers Suang Wijaya and Syazana Yahya from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP, who represented her pro bono through the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme. Justice Chua Lee Ming heard the appeal on Friday and accepted it on the same day. 

The woman’s acquittal comes soon after a similar high-profile case, in which a for

mer domestic worker from Indonesia was found guilty of stealing from her ex-employer, businessman and ex-Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong, but was later acquitted by the High Court.

Justice Chua found that the Filipina’s conviction was “against the weight of the evidence”.

The employer, Yong Choong Hiong, was 89 at the time of the alleged offences. His wife, aged 83 then, had dementia and was wheelchair-bound. The Filipina began working for them in December 2015.

She did not deny making eight ATM withdrawals of S$1,000 each from Yong’s two bank accounts between January 13 and February 8, 2017. Closed-circuit television footage caught her doing this. The key contention was whether Yong had consented to the withdrawals and passed her the bank cards.

The prosecution argued that the Filipina had stolen the bank cards from his wallet. But the defense countered that Yong had given her the cards and his PIN as compensation for touching her in a sexual way and attempting to have sex with her.

During the trial, Yong testified that he kept his bank cards in his wallet in his trousers throughout the day, except when showering. He said he did not share his PIN with anyone, even his children.

But the Filipina domestic worker testified that he had passed her his cards on several occasions and written down the PIN – which was the same for both cards – for her. She claimed that while Yong promised her S$500 each time he allegedly touched her, she did not know how to use the ATM and just pressed a button, getting S$1,000 each time. She said she returned S$500 to Yong each time.

The defense argued that when Yong’s family had found out about the withdrawals, he lied to them that they were unauthorized and was subsequently forced to lodge a false police report to support his claim.

In convicting the Filipina worker, District Judge Jasvender Kaur rejected her claim that her employer was paying her for sexual advances, as she found inconsistencies in the helper’s testimony. For example, the judge pointed out that she had a DBS account and bank card of her own, which made it hard to believe that she did not know how to use an ATM.

In her grounds of decision, District Judge Kaur noted that while Yong had difficulty hearing questions and recollecting some events, he was “absolutely certain” he had not given the Filipina worker his bank cards. She also found that Yong had not delayed reporting the matter to the police. He testified that he found out about the withdrawals on February 2, 2017, when he received his bank statements for the previous month. 

He said he went to a UOB branch to ask about four of the withdrawals, then returned with his son on February 21 and showed the bank staff a picture of the Filipina worker. Yong lodged a police report the next day.

In overturning the conviction of the Filipina worker, Justice Chua noted that there was no documentary record of Yong reporting the withdrawals to UOB in early February. This meant that he took three weeks to lodge a police report, and this delay supported the Filipina’s case that he consented to all the withdrawals, the High Court judge found.

The prosecution had also failed to make its case on how the Filipina worker could have accessed Yong’s bank cards and PIN without his consent. 

Justice Chua found that this meant District Judge Kaur’s inferences had no evidential basis.

CCTV footage showed the Filipina worker keying in the PIN twice on the first withdrawal. The prosecution argued that this showed she had made an educated guess and got the PIN right the second time, but Justice Chua found “no evidential basis” for this argument.

“It is highly unlikely that [the Filipina worker] would have guessed the correct PIN on the second try,” he said, acquitting her after concluding that reasonable doubt had been raised.

In a post about the acquittal on their website, the Filipina’s lawyers said the criminal proceedings had spanned more than three years, during which time she was unable to work and was separated from her family.
The lawyers also thanked the migrant workers’ group Humanitarian Organization of Migration Economics for its help.