Singapore exile, Tan Wah Piow has sent a letter to the Attorney-General Chambers (AGC) office asking for the convictions in 1975 against him and another two individuals to be quashed in view of the conviction against former NTUC secretary-general and People’s Action Party Member of Parliament, Phey Yew Kok on 22 January.
In his letter, Tan explained to the AGC that the new, compelling and unequivocal evidence which has recently emerged in his 42-year-old case and has since made the conviction against the three unsafe.
Tan Wah Piow, Ng Wah Leng and Yap Kim Hong were accused of being a member of an unlawful assembly, committing criminal trespass and the offence of rioting on or about 30 October 1974 at about 11 am at the office of the Singapore Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union (PIEU) and charged under Section 147 of the Penal Code.
The three accused were tried at the First District Court before Judge Mr T S Sinnathuray and finally convicted after a 47-day trial which started on the 10th December 1974.
During the trial, the prosecutors presented a case of how the three accused, together with five others invaded the PIEU office and rioted, causing damage to union property while the defence argued that the riot was a fabrication by Phey, the then General Secretary of PIEU with political reasons behind the frame-up.
At the end of the trial, the court found the three accused guilty of their charges, sentencing Tan to a year’s imprisonment, while the other two were both sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.
Tan wrote that he and the other two defendants had maintained their innocence throughout the whole trial, on the basis that the entire riot was staged by trade union officials at the instigation of Phey and that none of three were present at the alleged riot.
New evidence emerges after 42 years
The former NTUC chairman, Phey Yew Kok was eventually convicted of embezzlement of trade union funds and fabrication of evidence after being on the run for over 30 years aboard. Tan wrote that Phey’s conviction is of direct relevance to the 1974 ‘Riot’ case because his criminality dated back to 1973 before he and his PIEU staff testified against Tan and the other two in court.
Tan highlighted Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie’s remarks on Phey during his sentencing: “The facts reveal that Phey, like a serial criminal, systematically and with deliberation over a period of six years, perpetrated these offences. He had no qualms in trying to evade detection and had the temerity to instigate his staff to fabricate false evidence.”
He went on to point how this revelation impinges on the credibility of Phey as a prosecution witness in the 1974 trial. Tan wrote, “This is because the trial judge, TS Sinnathuray, arrived at a guilty verdict based on the evidence of someone we now know to be a crook and a thief, and who had the capacity to exert his criminal influence over his staff.”
He noted that if Judge TS Sinnathuray was aware of Phey’s propensity to influence trade union staff to pursue his criminal enterprise, the weight that the judge would put on the veracity of the prosecution evidence must be very different.
“Likewise, the outcome of the verdict would have inevitably been different.” wrote Tan.
Tan added in his letter, “If the fact that Phey Yew Kok was plundering the trade union coffers since 1973 was known to the judge at the time of the trial in 1974, it would be reasonable to suggest that any judge looking at the matter fairly and reasonably would have found the defence credible to Phey’s criminal enterprise.”
Constitutional duty to ensure any miscarriages of the justice be rectified
AGC has since acknowledged that it has received the letter from Tan on 29 January.
Tan said, “The Attorney General in independent of the Government. He is the custodian of the rule of law, and it is within the remit of his power, as well as his constitutional duty to ensure that any miscarriages of the justice must be rectified.
The technicality of how to quash a conviction is a matter for him to initiate without having to consult the government as he is supposed to be independent.
As a last resort, he can advise the government to quash the conviction by way on Act of Parliament. If they refuse, he would have to consider his position.”
Far-reaching impact of 1974 conviction
Should the AGC quash the convictions, the impact of doing so, would not be just limited to redressing the name of the three convicted but also far-reaching on other issues.
Allegations against Tan in 1987
Tan was touted by the government as the leader of the Marxist conspiracy during the Operation Spectrum in 1987. His alleged leadership role in the conspiracy was supported primarily via the conviction of allegations against him in court.
So if Tan’s conviction is quashed, this would likely spur the need for a whole re-look at the arrests made under the Internal Security Act during the 80’s and raise questions of whether statements made by alleged conspiracists on telecasted programmes were, in fact, forced confessions.