Law Minister K. Shanmugam has dismissed speculation that prominent plastic surgeon Woffles Wu was spared a jail sentence "because he's rich", reported The Sunday Times.
According to what the Attorney-General's Chambers had told him, Mr Shanmugam said Wu's $1,000 fine for getting an elderly employee to take the rap for two speeding offences appeared to be "within the norm of usual sentences".
He said that the prosecution could not find any money passing hands for the provision of false information so they had to rely on the fact that an abetment - inciting another to commit a crime - offence was commmitted.
The Straits Times reported that Wu's case has drawn much interest, especially online with netizens asking questions on his apparently lenient sentence.
Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a senior counsel and MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, also expressed surprise at the sentence, writing in a blog that such offences were serious as "they seek to undermine the course of justice".
Speaking to reporters while visiting Yishun yesterday evening, The Sunday Times reported that Mr Shanmugam said that Wu's offences were committed before the Penal Code was tightened in 2008 to make giving the traffic police misleading information a more serious crime.
Wu's speeding convictions happened in Sep 2005 and Nov 2006 and he was charged under the Road Traffic Act rather than the Penal Code which provides for stiffer penalties.
Mr Shanmugam pointed out that Wu was, therefore, charged according to what was the normal practice prior to 2008 saying "you can't charge a person for an offence if the section was not in existence at that time".
He also explained that Wu was charged with abetment rather than providing false information because it was not Wu that made the misleading statements, rather, it was Mr Kuan Yit Wah, the elderly maintenance technician who worked in Wu's clinic at the time, who gave police the false information.
Mr Shanmugam also said that it is up to the Attorney-General's Chambers, that acts independently, to decide whether to prosecute and under which section of the law to prosecute, as well as sentencing, which is left to the courts that are also independent.
He said we can all only speculate on why Mr Kuan, now 83, was not charged as he assumed the prosecution took his age into account and the employer-employee relationship, and so gave him a stern warning, as the court did not release a written judgment on that aspect of the case.
Mr Shanmugam also explained that the case took six years to come to court as it was due to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau receiving a complaint only recently.
He also said that investigations were ongoing to determine who drove Wu's car at the time of the offences, and additional punishments may be meted out.