SINGAPORE: A Senior Counsel defending a man who is one of 10 people charged in Singapore’s largest money-laundering probe, with S$2.8 billion (US$2 billion) of assets now seized or frozen, slammed the prosecution over the framing of the charges and the evidence it has.
Senior Counsel N Sreenivasan made the remarks while seeking bail for Su Jianfeng, 35, who is listed as a Ni-Vanuatu national in charge sheets.
Su faces four charges of possessing illegal proceeds from illegal remote gambling offences. These comprise S$17 million stored in three safe deposit boxes and S$550,903 in cash.
He was arrested on Aug 15 in a Good Class Bungalow along Third Avenue near Bukit Timah. His wife is also a witness in investigations, according to past court hearings.
On Wednesday (Oct 18), Mr Sreenivasan responded to an argument the prosecution had canvassed in responding to another bail review request by a co-accused earlier that morning.
The prosecution had used Su’s extensive affidavit to say that it is possible for defence lawyers to conduct their defence while the accused is remanded.
Bristling, Mr Sreenivasan said that what was scraped together by the defence was still, in his opinion, “woefully inadequate”.
This, he added, was partly because the interview slots were all taken up by the Commercial Affairs Department: “(They) have more time with my client than I do.”
He pointed out the “technical difficulties of all sorts” for a lawyer trying to run a defence with an accused person in Changi Prison.
“To say you have access to counsel and therefore you can run your defence is either very naive or being somewhat … well, I’ll leave it at being very naive. It certainly doesn’t reflect the position of where we are,” said Mr Sreenivasan.
On the danger of absconding, cited as a reason by the prosecution for why Su should not be granted bail, Mr Sreenivasan asked: “What’s his means to abscond? His means to abscond, all seized.”
He explained that rich mainland Chinese prefer to have non-Chinese passports to help them travel.
WHY WAS HE ALLOWED IN?
“He came into Singapore through proper immigration means. And the prosecution is silent – well, if he’s really this sort of nefarious guy, why was he allowed in?” asked the veteran lawyer.
He said Su had set up a company and was doing business in Singapore. For bail to be granted, the defence was offering 24-hour video surveillance at Su’s cost.
“Why is that bad? Why is that not sufficient? We haven’t heard,” he said. “Is our own border so horrible (and) our own agencies so inefficient that they are going to let somebody walk out of Singapore so easily?”
He said the line about the presumption of innocence being the bedrock of justice in Singapore was said by all as “a mantra”.
He said the courts say that bail is one of the “strongest and sincerest tribute to the presumption of innocence”.
“It’s a tribute that if the prosecution doesn’t want to offer our system, your honour should honour,” said Mr Sreenivasan to District Judge Terence Tay.
The lawyer continued challenging the prosecution, asking them to indicate how the alleged offences were committed, how they generated money and how the seized money came from there.
He said there was no evidence of his client attempting to leave or preparing to leave. On the contrary, his family, children and parents are here in Singapore.
On the wanted notice used by the prosecution to say that Su was wanted in China since 2015, Mr Sreenivasan said it was “plucked out of the internet”.
Two of the wanted people in the notice have been dealt with by the Chinese courts and given three-year suspended sentences along with fines.
The fact that they were suspended sentences means it is not very serious, and there is no corresponding offence in Singapore identified, said Mr Sreenivasan.
“Because the Chinese offence itself is not identified, if you don’t identify the predicate offence, you can’t identify the corresponding offence,” he said.
He said his client was offering to be surveilled 24 hours a day and to be ankle-tagged, conditions he had “no choice” but to propose because of the resistance he was facing on bail.
“We respectfully submit that he be permitted – for one main reason and that is, I don’t see a trial date coming up very soon,” said the lawyer.
“I see a problem: With 10 accused, I don’t know whether the prosecution is going to go joint or separate in terms of trials. If I look at the charges, I am 100 per cent certain they will be amended before we go further because of the obvious deficiencies in the charges. You can’t proceed to trial on charges like this,” said Mr Sreenivasan.
“They can’t wear down Mr Su. I’m instructed he’s got medical issues, he’s got back problems. Personally I can see he’s lost lots of weight – I don’t have to be a doctor to see that. And if that is the price we have to pay for justice, fine, Mr Su has to suffer.”
Deputy Public Prosecutor Edwin Soh, in response, said this was a bail hearing and it was established that there was no need for the prosecution to provide all the evidence at this early stage.
He said more details would definitely be provided at another stage and the defence would have the chance to respond.
After hearing the arguments, District Judge Terence Tay denied bail. He said Su had not given a satisfactory explanation for how he got the money, that the investigations are still ongoing, and that there are accomplices who are still at large.