Retrial of Norwegian man in Boat Quay assault: Witness says force of cabby’s punch was very hard
Witness in Norwegian's retrial for assault says cabby struck first
They wanted to seek justice for Arne Corneliussen, the Norway-born Singapore permanent resident who had been jailed for assaulting a cabby.
The two friends, Mr Mohamed Ayub Shaik Dawood and Mr Roslan Zainal, took the stand at the State Courts yesterday to testify that the cabby had in fact, hit the then drunk Corneliussen first.
The 51-year-old Norwegian was back in court for a retrial, after his original conviction and 10-week jail sentence for assaulting the cabby on Sept 22, 2014, was quashed in May this year following the witnesses' surprising revelation.
He now faces one charge of causing hurt by wrapping his hands around the cabby's neck.
Cabby Chan Chuan Heng was also subsequently charged with voluntarily causing hurt and providing false information to the police.
The new trials and change in charges are due to the persistence of Mr Ayub and Mr Roslan in providing fresh evidence about the events on that fateful night.
They were at Boat Quay that night and had witnessed the incident. Outraged after reading a news report about Corneliussen's conviction in May, both men decided to come forward.
Said Mr Ayub in court: "After I read The New Paper, I thought (to myself) that I had seen this (incident) and I think it is not right. The taxi driver had assaulted the Caucasian man, but the Caucasian man was charged for that.
"This is not justice. It is unfair that the taxi driver can just get away unpunished."
Mr Ayub, a Fullerton Hotel valet, and Mr Roslan, a personal driver, were waiting to hail taxis to head home when they witnessed the start of the incident.
From a distance, they saw Corneliussen and Chan speaking to each other before they heard Corneliussen say: "Why so expensive? You cheat me?"
Chan replied with expletives, before raising his right hand to punch the left side of Corneliussen's face, which resulted in a bruise.
Mr Ayub said: "The force used was very hard. I could hear the sound from across the road."
Mr Roslan said in a later testimony: "The Caucasian guy squatted on the pavement with his hands on the head... I then saw him stand up and move towards the taxi driver, asking 'Why did you hit me?'"
They saw Chan run back to his cab to turn on the engine.
Corneliussen jumped into the passenger seat and asked Chan why he wanted to run, said Mr Ayub.
Chan then exited the taxi and walked to its front. When he saw Corneliussen do the same, Chan ran off and the Norwegian chased him.
Mr Ayub, Mr Roslan and two other witnesses gave differing accounts on what happened next. (See report below.)
All four witnesses agreed that Corneliussen gave chase, eventually catching Chan and pinning him down by grabbing him by the neck.
But Mr Ayub and Mr Roslan had left the scene after passers-by intervened and were not able to tell the police about the earlier events.
They only made a police report after seeing the TNP report on Corneliussen's conviction, more than six months after the incident.
Mr Ayub said during cross-examination that he received no response from the police after lodging the report. It was not mentioned in court how long they waited.
Both men eventually sought out Corneliussen's defence counsel, Mr Terence Seah from Virtus Law, and told him what they saw.
Based on their evidence, Justice Chan Seng Onn quashed the guilty plea and sentence, ordered the release of Corneliussen and sent the case back to the State Courts.
By then, Corneliussen had already served six weeks in prison.
He had also lost his job as a DHL director and had paid Chan $30,000 as compensation.
The trial continues today with Mr Roslan retaking the stand.
After I read The New Paper, I thought (to myself) that I had seen this (incident) and I think it is not right. The taxi driver had assaulted the Caucasian man, but the Caucasian man was charged for that.
- Mr Mohamed Ayub Shaik Dawood
THREE POINTS FROM YESTERDAY'S HEARING
Four witnesses testified yesterday, each with a slightly different version of what happened.
Here are the main points:
1. All four witnesses said Arne Corneliussen (above, left) had held cabby Chan Chuan Heng by the neck while pinning him down.
Two witnesses, taxi driver Choitramani Chandru Bhaqwandas and senior operations supervisor Muhd Fairuz Jumahat, testified that Corneliussen was trying to strangle Chan.
But valet Mohamed Ayub Shaik Dawood and driver Roslan Zainal said the Norwegian was just trying to restrain the driver to prevent him from fleeing.
2. Corneliussen could have hit back at Chan when the cabby dealt the first blow, but he did not, said Mr Ayub.
Asked to describe Corneliussen's expression after he was hit, Mr Ayub said: "I thought that when he got up (after being hit), he would surely whack Chan. Instead, he just wanted an explanation."
3. The onlookers that had gathered were shouting and cursing at Corneliussen, said Mr Muhd Fairuz. Mr Roslan believed the crowd thought Corneliussen was trying to find fault with the cabby.