She was an Indonesian domestic helper who earned S$600 (£345) a month working for an extremely wealthy Singaporean family.
He was her employer, a titan of Singapore’s business establishment and the chairman of some of the country’s biggest companies.
One day, his family accused her of stealing from them. They reported her to the police – triggering what would become a high-profile court case that would grip the country with its accusations of pilfered luxury handbags, a DVD player, and even claims of cross-dressing.
Earlier this month, Parti Liyani was finally acquitted.
“I’m so glad I’m finally free,” she told reporters through an interpreter. “I’ve been fighting for four years.”
But her case has prompted questions about inequality and access to justice in Singapore, with many asking how she could have been found guilty in the first place.
Ms Parti first began working in Mr Liew Mun Leong’s home in 2007, where several family members including his son Karl lived.
In March 2016, Mr Karl Liew and his family moved out of the home and lived elsewhere.
Court documents that detail the sequence of events say that Ms Parti was asked to clean his new house and office on “multiple occasions” – which breaks local labour regulations, and which she had previously complained about.
A few months later, the Liew family told Ms Parti she was fired, on the suspicion that she was stealing from them.
But when Mr Karl Liew told Parti that her employment was terminated, she reportedly told him: “I know why. You are angry because I refused to clean up your toilet.”
She was given two hours to pack her belongings into several boxes which the family would ship to Indonesia. She flew back home on the same day.
While packing, she threatened to complain to the Singapore authorities about being asked to clean Karl’s house.
The Liew family decided to check the boxes after Ms Parti’s departure, and claimed they found items inside that belonged to them. Mr Liew Mun Leong and his son filed a police report on 30 October.
Ms Parti said had no idea about this – until five weeks later when she flew to Singapore to seek new employment, and was arrested upon arrival.
Unable to work as she was the subject of criminal proceedings, she stayed in a migrant workers’ shelter and relied on them for financial assistance as the case dragged on.
Ms Parti was accused of stealing various items from the Liews including 115 pieces of clothing, luxury handbags, a DVD player and a Gerald Genta watch.
Altogether the items were said to be worth S$34,000.
During the trial, she argued that these alleged stolen items were either her belongings, discarded objects that she found, or things that she had not packed into the boxes themselves.
In 2019, a district judge found her guilty and sentenced her to two years and two months’ jail. Ms Parti decided to appeal against the ruling. The case dragged on further until earlier this month when Singapore’s High Court finally acquitted her.
Justice Chan Seng Onn concluded the family had an “improper motive” in filing charges against her, but also flagged up several issues with how the police, the prosecutors and even the district judge had handled the case.
He said there was reason to believe the Liew family had filed their police report against her to stop her from lodging a complaint about being illegally sent to clean Karl’s house.
The judge noted that many items that were allegedly stolen by Ms Parti were in fact already damaged – such as the watch which had a missing button-knob, and two iPhones that were not working – and said it was “unusual” to steal items that were mostly broken.
In one instance, Ms Parti was accused of stealing a DVD player, which she said had been thrown away by the family because it did not work.
Prosecutors later admitted they knew the machine could not play DVDs, but did not disclose this during the trial when it was produced as evidence and shown to have worked in another way. This earned criticism from Justice Chan that they used a “sleight-of-hand technique… [that] was particularly prejudicial to the accused”.
In addition, Justice Chan a…