Starved PH maid’s employer says wife isn’t evil, ‘just unfortunate’
SINGAPORE — A businessman on Wednesday denied he and his wife starved their former maid, tearfully telling a court that his wife was not “evil” or “wicked”, but that she was anorexic and had obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Lim Choon Hong said he often travelled for work and left his wife, Chong Sui Foon, in charge at home.
Lim said Chong, who takes psychiatric medication, did not intend to harm Filipina helper Thelma Oyasan Gawidan, 40, between January 2013 and April last year.
“I do admit that Thelma has lost weight, but it’s definitely not because of my wife’s evil intention or the wickedness in her heart; it’s just unfortunate,” he said, crying.
The couple, both 47, face charges of failing to provide their maid with adequate food, contravening the Employment of Foreign Manpower (Work Passes) Regulations 2012. According to the law, employers have to pay for their helpers’ food.
Testifying on the third day of the trial, Lim said Chong left school after Primary 5.”My wife is not academically inclined; she’s a simple person,” he said. “There’s no evil in her heart… she didn’t do this to hurt anyone. There’s no point depriving another human being of food.”
They wed in 1990 and Lim later found out his wife had seen a psychiatrist and been hospitalized a few times for anorexia nervosa – an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. She also suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder and treated cleanliness “like a religion.”
Due to her preferences, Lim said their lifestyle “revolved around food and cleanliness.”
In 2010, their second child, a son, ran away from home “because of my wife’s tendencies”, Lim said. He has yet to return. The couple now live with their three other children; their eldest, a daughter, is 21.
There was no cooking done in their former condominium in Cuscaden. It was kept bare, and packed food was bought “for simplicity.”
“If the kitchen is dirtied, to clean it takes a long time,” Lim said.
The family usually ate two meals a day, but sometimes the couple would have only a single meal. Occasionally, Chong would not eat at all.
Lim said she would eat bread and occasionally rice, and that before tidying a wardrobe, she would take out the clothes and place them on a “protective sheet,” clean the cupboard, then put them back.
“It really beggars belief,” he cried. Chong, who sat in the dock, also sobbed as she listened.
Since cleaning the rooms would take up much time, the family ended up “camping out in the living room” so the rooms could be cleaned less frequently, Lim said.
They also showered in a public toilet by the swimming pool, to save time on cleaning their bathroom.
As the household ran on a fixed “schedule,” Lim said he and Gawidan at times did not shower.
While the helper requested a transfer, Lim said he persuaded her to stay on until he sold the home.
Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) S. Sellakumaran showed Lim a photo of Gawidan, taken days after she fled to a shelter in April last year, when she was 29kg.
Lim said he noticed she started to look so thin only around March last year. “If she looked like this, I would definitely be shocked,” he said.
“She didn’t complain. I would expect her to tell me if she was feeling unwell, but she did not.”
Lim also denied the maid had spoken to him about the inadequacy of her food. She spoke to him only about “food in general”, to which he replied: “The whole household is like that, so you just follow.”
Lim claimed Gawidan was given meat, eggs and vegetables but, pressed by the DPP, he conceded he had never seen her eat.
Asked to clarify if she ate at all, Lim said in exasperation: “She has to eat right? She doesn’t run on air.”
Earlier Wednesday, maid agency owner Toh Ah Choon told the court that Lim’s previous Indonesian helper had transferred out after a short while. She had complained to him that she was given only bread and instant noodles to eat. Gawidan had testified that she was given the same diet twice a day. She now works for another family.
The trial is expected to resume next month. If convicted, Lim and Chong could each be fined up to $10,000, and jailed for 12 months.