SINGAPORE: An Indian-origin couple was on Friday, December 17, 2021, jailed in Singapore court for repeat offences relating to the hiring of a maid despite being blacklisted by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and obstructing justice, local media reported.
Syed Mohamed Peeran Syed Ameer Hamza, who circumvented the MOM blacklist by using his business associate's identity to hire an Indonesian domestic worker, was jailed 36 weeks or about eight months.
The 41-year-old Singaporean pleaded guilty midway through a trial to one charge each of obstructing justice and instigating his associate to give false information to secure a work pass.
His spouse Sabah Parveen, a 37-year-old permanent resident from India, was jailed for three days after similarly pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.
The couple's Indonesian maid, Aminah, reported that she was mistreated by the couple.
Another charge of failing to pay all of Aminah's salary was taken into consideration for sentencing, according to a report by TODAY newspaper.
District Judge Jennifer Marie granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for a charge that the couple each faced, failing to ensure Aminah was given adequate rest every day.
This means that they can be prosecuted for these offences in the future, for example, if new evidence emerges.
The couple cried in the dock as their sentences were readout.
Sabah began serving her sentence immediately, while Syed will do so on January 7 in order to take care of their two young children and settle some work matters, said the TODAY report.
The court heard that in 2014, Sabah was charged with three counts of voluntarily causing hurt against their domestic worker at the time.
However, the charges were compounded when she paid SGD5,000 in compensation, which included a flight ticket, to the worker then.
In May 2015, Syed learned that he and his household had been placed on a blacklist for hiring foreign domestic workers until June 30, 2019.
He then wrote to MOM in a bid to lift the ban, but this was rejected.
In early 2018, he recruited Aminah.
She was in Indonesia at the time.
Then, in July that year, he circumvented the ban by persuading his associate to apply for in-principle approval for Aminah to be employed as a domestic worker in Singapore.
This was the first step in the work pass application.
Syed got Suresh Murugaiyan, an Indian origin associate in Singapore, to falsely indicate to MOM to be Aminah's employer.
MOM's Work Pass System automatically approved Suresh's application.
If Syed or his household members had used the system, it would have automatically prevented their application from going through, the court heard.
Aminah arrived in Singapore on July 17, 2018, and began working for Syed and Sabah.
Shortly afterwards, Syed convinced Suresh to submit formal work permit declaration forms, which again stated that Suresh was Aminah's employer.
The work permit application was approved on August 14, 2018.
In January 2019, the family made preparations to move to Hong Kong.
Aminah thought she would be taken there as well, though she did not wish to go.
She relayed her situation to another domestic worker living in the same condominium complex in the Balestier housing estate.
The other woman gave her the number for the Centre for Domestic Employees, which then informed MOM.
When the ministry called Aminah and asked her to give her employer's information, she said that she was afraid.
A MOM investigation officer then referred the case to the police.
On January 24, 2019, police officers visited Syed's home twice in rapid succession.
Syed answered the door both times, insisting that he had not employed a domestic worker and that it was just him and his family living there.
Sabah witnessed this and realised her husband could be under investigation.
Syed then asked Aminah to hide in a bathroom, before confronting her and asking why she had called the police and "(given them a) big problem".
He bought a flight ticket for her to return to Jakarta, Indonesia, that same night using Sabah's credit card.
Aminah was given some time to pack and was paid SGD1,000 of her overdue salary.
She had been paid for the first three months of work and not paid for at least two more months.
The couple then asked two neighbours, who did not know what was happening, to help Syed take Aminah's luggage down.
He accompanied Aminah to the airport where she left for Jakarta.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Chong Kee En told the court that after "some quick investigative work", the police and MOM realised that Suresh was not Aminah's employer.
Syed denied employing or knowing her, refusing to surrender his and spouse passports and saying that he would not leave Singapore.
However, he bought flight tickets soon after his interview with the police, attempting to leave on the same day before being stopped at the airport.
Before Syed tried to leave, the police had placed the couple on a stop-list, which alerts the authorities to stop certain individuals from leaving Singapore.
Aminah returned to Singapore in July 2019 and more details came to light then, said DPP Chong.
He sought nine months' jail for Syed and a custodial term for Sabah, pointing out that Aminah had worked for the family for six months despite the blacklist being in effect.
Syed's lawyer, Rachel Soh, said in mitigation that he had hired Aminah out of concern for his family.
He was working as a consultant in Hong Kong at the time and wanted to support them in his absence, Soh added.
Representing Sabah, lawyer Jeremy Pereira told the court that Sabah did not know what her husband had done until police officers showed up at their door.
This put her in an "unenviable situation" of having to report him to the police or keep silent.
He could also have blamed her for his arrest, Pereira said.
Those convicted of obstruction of justice in Singapore can be jailed for up to seven years or fined, or both.