Public Prosecutor v Selvakumar Pillai s/o Suppiah Pillai

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeYong Pung How CJ
Judgment Date26 August 2004
Neutral Citation[2004] SGHC 186
Docket NumberMagistrate's Appeal No 43 of 2004
Date26 August 2004
Published date02 September 2004
Year2004
Plaintiff CounselKhoo Oon Soo and Jill Tan (Deputy Public Prosecutors)
Citation[2004] SGHC 186
Defendant CounselSubhas Anandan (Harry Elias Partnership)
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Subject MatterWhether cumulative effect of circumstantial evidence leading to inexorable conclusion that respondent committed theft,First-time offender and hardship suffered by family,Conviction,Property,Whether compelling mitigating factors preventing imposition of imprisonment sentence,Theft,Mitigation,Criminal Law,Whether trial judge erred in finding that respondent's confession was inadmissible as evidence,Theft by servant,Voir dire,Sentencing,Offences,Appropriate sentence,Section 381 Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed),Criminal Procedure and Sentencing

26 August 2004

Yong Pung How CJ:

1 The respondent was acquitted by the District Court after being tried on the following charge in PP v Selvakumar Pillai s/o Suppiah Pillai [2004] SGDC 84:

You Selvakumar Pillai s/o Suppiah Pillai (M/34 Yrs) NRIC No S6939745Z are charged that you, on 30 June 2003, some time after 6.15pm, at the Bukit Merah Branch office of the Housing & Development Board (“HDB”), located at Block 166 Bukit Merah Central, #03-3529, Singapore, being a servant of HDB, namely an Administrative Assistant with HDB, did commit theft of cash amounting to $199,575.78 (one hundred and ninety-nine thousand, five hundred and seventy-five Singapore dollars and seventy-eight cents) in the possession of HDB, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 381 of the Penal Code (Chapter 224).

I allowed the Prosecution’s appeal against the order of acquittal and now set out my reasons.

Background facts

2 The respondent was a cashier with the finance section of the Housing and Development Board (“the HDB”), Bukit Merah Branch. On 30 June 2003, he committed theft of $199,575.78 in the possession of the HDB’s Bukit Merah Branch.

The workings of HDB’s Bukit Merah Branch

3 The finance section of HDB’s Bukit Merah Branch receives daily payments for car park fines, season parking tickets, housing loan instalments, rental payments and late payment charges. At the end of each working day, the daily collection is counted, the figures are tallied and the cash is placed in a Commercial and Industrial Security Corporation (“CISCO”) money bag. The money bag is sealed and placed in a safe located in the strong room of the finance section. The strong room is secured by a key lock and an electronic alarm system. The alarm system is armed and disarmed by the same four-digit code. The safe is secured by both key and combination locks.

4 The keys to the safe and the strong room are placed in an unlocked plastic container on the desk of Tan Chuan Juan (“Tan”), the Finance Supervisor. Tan’s workstation has no door and most of the finance section staff know where the keys are kept.

5 The official policy is that no staff member should know both the four‑digit code for the strong room and the combination for the safe. Thus, one group of employees in the finance section officially knows the four-digit code for the strong room. They are Tan and three assistant finance supervisors, including Chua Keng Hoon (“Chua”). Another group officially knows the combination for the safe and they comprise cashiers in the finance section – the respondent, Ho Choo Tong (“Ho”), Lee Chin Chong (“Lee”) and Soo Thoo Fok Loy (“Soo Thoo”). Strictly speaking, no person should have knowledge of both codes. However, it transpired that certain staff members including the respondent were apprised of both codes.

6 When the CISCO money bag is placed in the safe at the end of each day by one of the cashiers, the Finance Supervisor or one of the assistant finance supervisors is supposed to witness the money bag being placed in the safe before locking the safe with the key, and locking and arming the strong room. However, this procedure was not always followed. Additionally, Tan testified that he would leave the strong room door unlocked during the day so that the cashiers could have easy access to the strong room to obtain loose change as and when it was needed.

The events leading to the theft

7 On 30 June 2003, the respondent was on leave but he returned to the Bukit Merah Branch in the afternoon and assisted in the counting of the day’s cash collections. After the cash had been tallied, Ho placed the day’s takings in the CISCO money bag and put it in the safe. Chua entered the strong room only after Ho had closed the safe. Chua then locked the safe, and locked and armed the strong room. Ho testified that the cash collection for that day was $199,575.78. The breakdown of the cash denominations was as follows:

(a) 35 pieces of $1,000 notes;

(b) 104 pieces of $100 notes;

(c) 2,840 pieces of $50 notes;

(d) 1,085 pieces of $10 notes;

(e) 12 pieces of $5 notes;

(f) 351 pieces of $2 notes;

(g) nine pieces of $1 notes; and

(h) $554.78 worth of mixed coins.

8 Once the day’s takings had been safely stored, Chua, Ho, Lee and Soo Thoo (“the group”) prepared to leave the office. They had earlier arranged with the respondent to have dinner that evening and celebrate Soo Thoo’s retirement as it was Soo Thoo’s last day of work. As the group prepared to leave for dinner, they realised that the respondent was not in their midst. They eventually left the office at about 6.15pm without the respondent as Chua told the rest of them that the respondent had mentioned earlier that he intended to get a farewell gift for Soo Thoo at the nearby supermarket.

9 At the appointed venue, the group started dinner without the respondent. At about 7.20pm when they had finished their dinner, the respondent showed up with a bottle of liquor for Soo Thoo. He told them that he had gone home to get the liquor for Soo Thoo instead and it had been difficult to hail a cab. Soo Thoo testified that he had told the respondent previously that he did not drink but the respondent knew that Soo Thoo’s father did so. Chua, Ho and Lee also testified that it was common knowledge that Soo Thoo was a teetotaller. Ho and Lee left soon after the respondent’s arrival while Chua and Soo Thoo accompanied the respondent as he ate. After he had finished dinner, the three of them left together and the respondent gave Chua a lift home in a cab.

10 The next morning, 1 July 2003, Tan disarmed the strong room when Ho reported for work. Tan then went to answer a telephone call, leaving Ho to open the safe. Ho discovered that the CISCO money bag was missing. He immediately notified Tan and a police report was eventually made. There were no signs of a break-in.

The Prosecution’s case

11 The Prosecution alleged that the respondent had the motive, knowledge and opportunity to commit the theft. First, the Prosecution surmised that the respondent was in need of money. His monthly salary of $1,200 went towards supporting his wife who was a homemaker, his two children and his father-in law. Many of his bills were also unpaid. The respondent had installed an alarm system in his home and his security services bills were unpaid from January to June 2003. His Starhub Internet account was terminated on 26 June 2003 for non-payment. His Singapore Power bills from January to May 2003 were not paid until 30 May 2003.

12 Second, the Prosecution submitted that the respondent had easy access to the safe as several of the staff members had testified that the respondent knew both the code to the safe as well as the code to the strong room. The respondent had told Chua that he knew the code to the strong room and Ho had heard the former Finance Supervisor, the late Paul Foo (“Paul”), ask the respondent to arm the strong room. Moreover, the keys to the strong room and the safe were freely available.

13 Third, the Prosecution argued that once the group had left the office and the Bukit Merah Branch was locked up for the day, the respondent, having hidden himself in the office, had the means and opportunity to commit the theft.

14 At the same time, the Prosecution asserted that the respondent and his family members had a show of sudden wealth from 30 June 2003 onwards, the source of which was not satisfactorily explained. It averred that this newfound wealth was the spoils from the theft and cited the following incidents as proof of the respondent’s unexplained wealth:

(a) On the night of 30 June and on 1 July 2004, the respondent deposited $1,600 into his POSB accounts which previously had little or no money in them.

(b) On the morning of 1 July, instead of attending a scheduled medical appointment, the respondent went to two pawnshops and redeemed jewellery amounting to $21,000. At the first pawnshop, Thai Thong pawnshop, he paid about $12,000, out of which $11,000 was made up of $10 notes, $400 was made up of $50 notes and $600 was made up of both $2 and $5 notes. On the same day, the respondent paid his June 2003 Singapore Power bill. It was the first time in 2003 that he had paid his Singapore Power bill promptly.

(c) On 2 July, the respondent’s father-in-law, Murugaiyah Thiruvengadam (“Murugaiyah”), deposited $16,400 into his own bank account.

(d) On 4 July 2004, the police seized $2,000 in $50 notes from the respondent’s home.

(e) On the same day, the respondent was offered $50,000 bail for his release. That night, his wife, Rajaswari d/o Thiruvengadam (“Rajaswari”), went to two cash deposit machines and deposited $5,000 cash in a hundred $50 notes into her United Overseas Bank Ltd (“UOB”) account at Bedok. At Tampines, she deposited another $9,000 in eighty $50 and fifty $100 notes into the same account slightly past midnight on 5 July 2004.

(f) Later that day on 5 July, Murugaiyah transferred $15,000 from his account into Rajawasri’s. Rajaswari also deposited $21,000 in sixteen $1,000 notes and a hundred $500 notes into her account. This brought her account balance to $50,000 which she used to bail the respondent out of jail.

According to the Prosecution, the fact that all the denominations of notes used by the respondent and his family members were consistent with the HDB’s tally cast greater suspicion on the source of the money in the possession of the respondent and his family members.

The Defence’s case

15 The respondent denied having committed the theft. Contrary to the Prosecution’s accusations that he was hard-pressed for money, he claimed that he always had substantial cash savings in his possession. He asserted that he had savings of between $22,000 and $25,000 at home which were meant for emergencies. This sum comprised of his savings from working with the HDB and from part-time jobs, Rajaswari’s savings, the leftover of an insurance payout of $35,000 he had received in 1999, and the leftover from...

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1 books & journal articles
  • THE CONCEPT OF VOLUNTARINESS IN THE LAW OF CONFESSIONS
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2005, December 2005
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    ...Kian Tat, supra n 73; Tan Choon Huat v PP[1991] SLR 805, Poh Kay Keong v PP[1996] 1 SLR 209 and PP v Selvakumar Pillai s/o Suppiah Pillai[2004] 4 SLR 280. 76 [1989] Crim LR 62, CA. 77 [1995] Crim LR 52. 78 Supra n 16, at 600. 79 Hor, supra n 46, at lxiv. 80 Report No 26, supra n 63, at para......

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