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Singapore Airport Chairman faces backlash over maid theft case

·3-min read
Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of Changi Airport Group. (PHOTO: CAG website)
Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of Changi Airport Group. (PHOTO: CAG website)

By Kyunghee Park

(Bloomberg) -- The chairman of Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport, Liew Mun Leong, is facing growing criticism on social media after a court overturned a conviction against a domestic worker who had been charged with stealing from his household.

Singapore’s High Court last week acquitted Parti Liyani, an Indonesian maid, with Justice Chan Seng Onn saying that the Liew family had an “improper motive” for accusing the helper of stealing S$34,000 (US$24,810) worth of items such as watches and clothes. The court also found the testimony of Karl Liew, Liew Mun Leong’s son, questionable, according to ChannelNews Asia.

The judge noted there was reason to believe that the affluent family filed a police report against their former maid to prevent her from lodging a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower about her work arrangements, that included being illegally deployed to clean Liew’s son’s home and office in addition to Liew’s house.

When contacted, Liew said that as the High Court has made its judgment of the case, he should respect it and will not make any further comments.

The scandal has sparked a fierce backlash in the city-state, including angry comments on the airport’s Facebook page calling for him to step down. It has also raised questions about how the system treated one of the city-state’s most prominent businessmen compared to a low-paid migrant worker who worked for them.

Not a ‘Witch Hunt’

Besides being chairman of Changi Airport Group, Liew is also chairman of urban consultancy Surbana Jurong Pte. and was the founding chief executive officer of real estate giant Capitaland Ltd. He was also on the board of Singapore Exchange Ltd. and is a senior international business adviser of state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte., among many senior leadership positions.

“Something has gone wrong in some part of the chain of events,” Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said in a post on his Facebook page. “We have to review, deal with it. At this point, we shouldn’t prejudge or speculate on which of part the process could have gone wrong. This is why reviews are being conducted.”

Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers is reviewing the case and the judge’s comments to see if any further action should be taken. The Ministry of Manpower and police are also reviewing how the case was handled.

Shanmugam said the process must be fair, but not a “witch hunt,” adding the agencies will review what happened, why it happened, and “we will then need to be accountable, on what steps we will take,” so as to continue to maintain trust in the system.

Temasek’s investment arm CEO Dilhan Pillay said Tuesday during the firm’s annual review that Liew is among many who have contributed to Singapore over the years.

“There are many individuals who have contributed to both public service and to the private sector in Singapore, for the benefit of Singapore and our population as a whole. Liew Mun Leong is one of those persons,” Pillay said, responding to a question about the incident.

“The court case has just had one phase of it done, there are ongoing proceedings and I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that. What I can say is that we should hear from Mr Liew on his side of the issue, and not come quick to judgment until we’ve heard all sides of things.”

(Updates with Liew’s comments in fourth paragraph.)

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.