SINGAPORE: The High Court on Friday (Oct 30) overturned a conviction of all theft charges by a maid accused of stealing from her elderly employer, finding that the prosecution did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ms Portela Vilma Jimenez, 50, had been found guilty in a district court of 10 charges of theft for stealing ATM cards belonging to Mr Yong Choong Hiong, and withdrawing a total of S$8,000 from his account in early 2017. She was sentenced to a year’s jail earlier this year.
The Filipina argued that her employer, a former police officer, allowed her to withdraw money from his accounts by giving her his PIN.
She claimed they had an arrangement where she could withdraw S$500 each time after she allowed him to molest her. Ms Jimenez also alleged that Mr Yong, 89, attempted to have sex with her on Jan 15, 2017.
Justice Chua Lee Ming, who acquitted Ms Jimenez, said Mr Yong’s testimony that he went to the UOB branch at Raffles Place to report the unauthorised withdrawals was contradicted by the bank’s officers.
“It is highly unlikely that there would have been no documentary record if (the) victim’s evidence is to be believed. A claim of unauthorised withdrawal is a serious matter,” said Justice Chua.
“The UOB officers were clear that the standard procedure in such a case was to have a claim form filled up.”
The judge added that Mr Yong’s delay in reporting the withdrawals supports the argument that he did not do so immediately because he had consented to them.
“The grounds of decision does not deal with this issue at all,” said the judge, referring to the grounds issued by lower court judge Jasvender Kaur, who convicted Ms Jimenez.
Justice Chua found that the conviction is “against the weight of the evidence” and that the prosecution had not proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt. He allowed the appeal and set aside the convictions and sentence.
THE PROSECUTION’S CASE
Ms Jimenez started working as a domestic helper for Mr Yong’s household in December 2015, helping him and his wife.
She had access to the drawer where Mr Yong kept his wallet with his ATM cards at night, and was able to see him key in the PIN for his two cards while he paid for groceries, according to the prosecution’s case.
Around Jan 13, 2017, Ms Jimenez took Mr Yong’s card and was shown on closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage withdrawing money with it on seven occasions between Jan 13 and Feb 8.
She also took another card from Mr Yong’s wallet around Feb 8, 2017, and withdrew money from his account that day, said the prosecution.
They claimed that Mr Yong realised the withdrawals only when he read his bank statement on Feb 2, 2017.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Stacey Fernandez said Ms Jimenez was “inconsistent on how the victim had touched her”, and had never said in her police statements that Mr Yong attempted to have sex with her.
She also said that Mr Yong wrote his PIN on a piece of paper, but could not produce it in court and was not seen in CCTV footage referring to any paper.
THE DEFENCE’S CASE
Defence lawyers Suang Wijaya and Syazana Yahya from Eugene Thuraisingam LLP argued that the lower court judge had “out of her own volition, plugged the gaping holes in the prosecution’s case which the prosecution itself had failed to address”.
They said Mr Yong’s own consistent testimony was that his ATM cards were with him at all times, even when he was in the toilet. The prosecution did not establish how it was possible for Ms Jimenez to get his cards 12 times if this were true.
Mr Yong also testified he had not given his PIN to anyone, and said Ms Jimenez seldom followed him out.
The lawyers alleged Mr Yong had lied in his police report, by saying he had reported the allegedly unauthorised withdrawals when the bank showed no such record.
They added it is “unbelievable” that Mr Yong, “a self-professed disciplinarian in pecuniary matters and a former policeman”, would delay reporting for three weeks after discovering the withdrawals.
“The only inference that can be drawn from these circumstances is that (Mr Yong) had known about and consented to the withdrawals all along. The alleged visit to UOB Raffles was a mere fabrication to give the false impression that he acted swiftly upon discovery of the allegedly unauthorised withdrawals,” said the lawyers.
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They drew reference to the case of Ms Parti Liyani, who was acquitted of stealing from her then-employer Liew Mun Leong and his family.
They said Ms Parti was interviewed by the police in a language other than her native tongue, while Ms Jimenez “was not even offered an interpreter”.
In a statement on its website, the law firm thanked the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) and said: “We are glad that justice was served.”
Published at Mon, 02 Nov 2020 05:34:03 +0000