Public Prosecutor v Gemma Hernandez Sarita

CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
JudgeKaur Jasvender
Judgment Date19 August 2008
Neutral Citation[2008] SGDC 240
Citation[2008] SGDC 240
Published date11 September 2008
Plaintiff CounselDiane Tan Yi-Lui (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Defendant CounselChong Soon Pong Adrian (Low Yeap Toh & Goon)

19 August 2008

District Judge Jasvender Kaur:

1 The accused, who is a Filipino national working as a domestic maid here, was acquitted and discharged on five counts of extending loans at interest to four fellow Filipinos between March 2006 and April 2007 under s. 8(1)(b)(i) of the Moneylenders Act (Chapter 188) (“the Act”). The case essentially hinged on whether the accused could be labelled as carrying on the business of moneylending. I found that she had rebutted the presumption on a balance of probabilities by showing that she is not a moneylender within the terms of the definition in s. 2 of the Act. Against the acquittals, the public prosecutor has appealed.

Prosecution’s evidence

2 The police report which started the investigations of illegal moneylending against the accused was lodged by one Nerissa Batong Mangrobang (“Nerissa”) on 8 April 2007. The first and second charges relate to the alleged loans at interest made to Nerissa by the accused. However, she was not called as a witness by the prosecution as she is no longer in Singapore.

3 The evidence of the other three borrowers is summarised below.

(i) Evidence of PW1 – Shela Olazo Aton (“Shela”)

4 Shela has been a domestic maid here for seven years. She came to know the accused either in May or June 2006 through another Filipino domestic maid Anita Espiritu Maralit (“Anita”). After that, she sometimes met up with the accused at a park at Orchard Road. She said the accused attended her birthday celebration and the accused also invited her for her birthday celebration.

5 Shela testified that sometime in September 2006, she informed Anita that she was in need of money. Anita told her she would arrange a meeting with the accused. Before the meeting, Shela called the accused. She told the accused she needed to borrow $300. She testified that she asked the accused if it was true that she had to pay 15% interest, and the accused replied ‘yes’. Asked how she knew of the 15% interest, she replied that she learnt from Anita that the accused was lending money at 15% interest. She told the accused she would repay within two months and the accused said ‘okay’.

6 The accused handed her the $300 at Orchard Road. Shela said she needed the money for an “emergency” in the Philippines. In respect of repayment, she testified that she paid $150 plus $45 interest in the following month in October 2006. She said she had to make another payment of $150 towards the capital and $22.50 as interest, that is, 15% on the $150. However, she was unable to make this balance payment because the accused did not wait when she was late for the appointment and did not want to meet her thereafter. Subsequently, she said they had a ‘feud’ which resulted in an exchange of unpleasant SMSes.

7 Under cross-examination, she disagreed that she borrowed a sum of $200 and not $300. She denied she offered to pay an interest of 15% after she had returned the capital sum, to which the accused agreed. She disagreed she told the accused she needed the money for an emergency in the Philippines. With respect to repayment, she denied she only made a payment of $150 towards the capital.

8 As for her relationship with the accused, she stated that she was a friend and had spoken to the accused many times on the phone. She had also been to the flat of the accused’s boyfriend twice on the occasions where they celebrated Anita and the accused’s birthday.

(ii) Evidence of PW3 – Jubelyn Corpin Corbita (“Jubelyn”)

9 Jubelyn is working here as an administrative secretary. She and her boyfriend previously rented a room in a HDB flat in which the accused’s boyfriend is staying. They moved into the flat in March 2006. She met the accused at the flat when the accused came to visit her boyfriend. She said the accused came on every weekend and sometimes on weekdays. Asked how their relationship was, she said they were close and she treated the accused as a ‘sister’.

10 She testified she was running out of money in June 2006 and she told the accused she was financially tight. The accused told her that she could help her on condition that she will repay her. She told the accused she needed a sum of $500. She asked the accused when she could lend her the money and the accused told her that she would inform her. She went onto assert the accused told her that she was involved in moneylending, and she thus knew automatically she would have to pay interest. About two weeks later, the accused told her that she would lend her the $500 and she could pay the interest of 15% in the following month.

11 In the next month (July), she made a first repayment of $300, without any interest. She told the accused that she will only make payment of the interest after clearing the loan amount, to which the accused agreed. She made a second repayment of $200 towards the capital and either “$70 or $75” towards the interest in August 2006. She said the total interest for the loan was $105, but she paid the accused “$70” or “$75” because she had set-off a sum of $35 for sanitary napkins sold to the accused. She explained that the interest on the loan sum of $500 at 15% was $75 and the interest on the $200 which she paid in the following month was $30, giving a total of $105.

12 On 3 December 2006, Jubelyn and her boyfriend moved out of the flat. She said the accused started sending her ‘nasty’ SMSes in March 2007 and she responded by doing likewise. On 14 March 2007, Jubelyn lodged a police report against the accused in respect of the SMSes received (see exh P3).

13 Under cross-examination, she disagreed that she offered to pay 10% interest. She disagreed the accused told her that she could pay her interest if she had extra cash after the sum of $500 was returned. It was put to her that she took the loan of $500 on 21 May 2006 but Jubelyn said it was in June 2006 based on her recollection. She disagreed she made a first repayment of $150 in June 2006, a second repayment of $200 in July 2006 and a third repayment of $85 in August 2006. She disagreed that she paid $25 as interest even though she had offered to pay 10% interest, which would have amounted to $50.

14 She agreed that she spoke to the accused about a second loan in October 2006. She, however, denied she told the accused she needed a sum of $500. She said she only told her she needed “some amount”. She also denied that she told the accused she needed $500 as ‘show money’ for her sister’s trip to Singapore. According to her, she did not borrow again as she told the accused she could cope.

(iii) Evidence of PW5 – Lyn Santiago Peridas (“Lyn”)

15 Lyn was introduced to the accused in April 2006 by her cousin, Nerissa, at a birthday party. She testified that Nerissa told her that the accused was lending money at 15% interest. She told Nerissa that she needed $100, and Nerissa informed the accused of her request. The accused then lent her $100 at the party.

16 About a year later, she borrowed again from the accused. On 1 April 2007, she telephoned the accused and arranged to meet her to borrow $100. She told the accused she needed the money for her daughter’s examination fees and for her brother’s surgery. The accused told her to repay $115 by the end of April 2007, and if not, to pay her the interest of $15. She stated that she learnt of the accused’s arrest on 9 April 2007 and as such she did not make any repayment.

17 Under cross-examination, she said she had regular telephone conversations with the accused in 2007. Amongst the matters they spoke on was the loan that Nerissa owed the accused. She was aware that Nerissa had borrowed money from the accused in connection with her rice fields in the Philippines. In March 2007, the accused asked her for the address of Nerissa in the Philippines in order to send a photo of Nerissa and Marelyn Rose Alpeche Librea (“Marelyn”) to Nerissa’s family to show that she was having a lesbian relationship.

18 With respect to the loan in 2007, it was put to her under cross-examination that the accused gave a friendly loan without interest, to which Lyn replied that the accused told her there was no interest but she was told during repayment to pay with interest. However, when asked to confirm the accused told her there was no interest when she handed the $100 to her, she said the accused did not tell her there was no interest. She also went onto say that the accused told her that if Nerissa were to ask how much she borrowed, she should say $100 without interest.

19 With respect to the police report against the accused lodged by Nerissa, she stated that Nerissa informed her that she wanted to lodge a report against the accused because the accused was alleging she was having a lesbian relationship with Marelyn based on the photograph. She said she informed the accused that Nerissa had made a report against her.

The accused’s section 121(1) statements

20 The defence did not challenge the voluntariness of the accused’s long statements but took issue with the accuracy of the contents.

(i) Evidence of PW4 - Nur Seleena Abdullah (“Seleena”)

21 Seleena acted as the Tagalog interpreter in interpreting the accused’s statement recorded on 16 April 2007. She was not present during the recording of the statement. She was asked by SSgt Lau Chai Hock (“SSgt Lau”) to interpret the two-page statement that had been typed. She believed the accused had signed the statement before she interpreted it. She was unable to recall if SSgt Lau had already signed. She accordingly interpreted it in Tagalog. Upon doing so, she asked the accused if she understood the statement. The accused affirmed she understood it. She went on to say, “If I am not wrong, the accused said she want to make some amendments.” After the interpretation, Seleena appended her signature in the middle.

22 On 23 May 2007, Seleena was requested by SSgt Lau to act an interpreter in the recording of a further statement from the accused. Seleena testified that she interpreted the questions posed by SSgt Lau...

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