SINGAPORE, Dec 17 — Even though his household had been banned from hiring foreign domestic workers after his wife abused their previous one, Syed Mohamed Peeran Syed Ameer Hamza circumvented the blacklist under the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) by using his business associate’s identity.
When their new worker, Ms Aminah, reported that they had mistreated her, Syed and his spouse Sabah Parveen hid her from the authorities and sent her home to Indonesia to avoid being investigated.
For his actions, Syed was today 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.
Another charge of failing to pay all of Ms Aminah’s salary was taken into consideration for sentencing.
Sabah, a 37-year-old permanent resident from India, was jailed for three days after similarly pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.
District Judge Jennifer Marie granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal for a charge that the couple each faced — failing to ensure Ms 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 read out. Sabah began serving hers immediately, while Syed will do so on Jan 7 in order to take care of their two young children and settle some work matters.
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 S$5,000 in compensation, which included a flight ticket, to the worker then.
Placed on blacklist
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 Ms 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 Ms Aminah to be employed as a domestic worker in Singapore. This was the first step in the work pass application.
Syed was in Hong Kong at the time.
He got Mr Suresh Murugaiyan, the associate in Singapore, to falsely indicate to MOM that Mr Suresh would be Ms Aminah’s employer. Syed also got the other man to give Syed’s phone number and email in the application.
Mr Suresh and his wife are directors at Hamilton Global Engineering Services where Syed holds shares, while Mr Suresh is also listed as an employee of Wellkraft Singapore where Syed is a director.
MOM’s Work Pass System automatically approved Mr 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.
Ms Aminah arrived in Singapore on July 17, 2018 and began working for Syed and Sabah.
Shortly afterwards, Syed convinced Mr Suresh to submit formal work permit declaration forms, which again stated that Mr Suresh was Ms Aminah’s employer.
The work permit application was approved on Aug 14, 2018. Ms Aminah, who never knew about the ruse, never met Mr Suresh and thought Syed was him.
Asked neighbours for help
In January 2019, the family made preparations to move to Hong Kong. Ms 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 Balestier. The other woman gave her the number for the Centre for Domestic Employees, which then informed MOM.
When the ministry called Ms Aminah and asked her to give her employer’s information, she said that she was afraid. An MOM investigation officer then referred the case to the police.
On Jan 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 Ms 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.
Ms Aminah was given some time to pack and was paid S$1,000 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 Ms Aminah’s luggage down. He accompanied Ms Aminah to the airport where she left for Jakarta.
Refused to give up passports
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Chong Kee En told the court that after “some quick investigative work”, the police and MOM realised that Mr Suresh was not Ms Aminah’s employer.
Syed denied employing or knowing her, refusing to surrender their 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.
Ms Aminah returned to Singapore in July 2019 and more details came to light then, DPP Chong said.
He sought nine months’ jail for Syed and a custodial term for Sabah, noting that Ms Aminah had worked for the family for six months despite the blacklist being in effect.
Syed’s lawyer, Ms Rachel Soh, said in mitigation that he had hired Ms 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, Ms Soh added.
Mr Jeremy Pereira from law firm Withers KhattarWong, who represented Sabah, 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, Mr Pereira said.
Those convicted of obstruction of justice can be jailed for up to seven years or fined, or both. — TODAY