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Ex-envoy to offer ‘moral compensation’But Romanian tells minister it’s not an admission of guiltBy Teh Joo Lin02 March 2010Former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu said he would offer compensation to the victims of the hit-and-run accident on Dec15, but declined to attend a coroner’s inquiry that starts tomorrow.In an e-mail to Foreign Minister George Yeo yesterday, Dr Ionescu, 49, said he would be making ‘moral compensation’ to the wife of Mr. Tong Kok Wai.Mr. Tong, 30, died 10 days after he was knocked down by the Romanian Embassy’s car last year. Two other pedestrians were also injured.Dr Ionescu said his ‘public and irreversible declaration’ to compensate Mrs Tong, which went against his lawyers’ advice, was not an admission of guilt on his part in the accident.‘I will do this not only to demonstrate that the idea of me not respecting the victims is untrue, but also because I feel sincere compassion for those who had to suffer following this tragic event,’ he said.The career diplomat, who said the move could bring ‘disadvantages’ to him, did not state the amount of compensation.His decision came in a nine-page e-mailed letter which he also copied to Law Minister K.Shanmugam, Attorney-General Walter Woon and The Straits Times.In it, he launched a lengthy defence of his decision not to attend the inquest into Mr. Tong’s death, offering ‘rigorous apologies’ to Mr. Yeo for not turning up.He said he was too ill to fly and might even die before investigations were concluded. Even if he were healthy, he would not return because ‘my presence to this Coroner’s Inquiry has no relevance’.He claimed that the handling of the case had breached Singapore and international legal procedures. For example, he claimed the authorities here had already decided he was guilty when a state counsel told the State Coroner at a hearing in late January that there was evidence to show that he was the driver of the car.He said: ‘If the wish was to establish the cause of death of the person... this inquiry could have been done without accusing me directly.’The Foreign Affairs Ministry rejected his allegations in a statement to The Straits Times last night. A spokesman said: ‘The legal procedures followed by the police in this case have not breached our own laws or the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.’The spokesman added that the coroner’s inquiry was only to establish facts. ‘It is not a criminal trial,’ she said, adding that any decision to charge Dr Ionescu would come only after all the facts had been clarified at the inquiry.She added: ‘His own interest is better served by returning to Singapore to put forward his version of the facts and his arguments to the State Coroner or to appoint a lawyer in Singapore to do so on his behalf rather than to write lengthy letters. We should not descend into a trial by media.’Mr. Yeo had made a similar point last week when he told Parliament that while he fully understood the outrage in some quarters here, ‘we should never do anything that is not in keeping with due legal process nor descend into trial by media’.Veteran lawyers, such as Mr. S.Rada-krishnan, said it is not uncommon for state counsel to say what they intend to show ahead of the inquiry.The former district judge, who did a stint as a state coroner as well, said: ‘It’s his duty to lead evidence, but ultimately the finding is made by the Coroner, who has not commented on anything. The Coroner comes in with an open mind.’In the e-mail, Dr Ionescu also said that the body of Mr. Tong, who was taken off life support 10 days after the accident, should not have been released for cremation so soon - three days after his death.This would have stopped him from getting a second opinion from an independent medical expert on the cause of death.
‘In these conditions, any attempt by the defence to verify if the diagnosis was correct or wrong has no chance any more, suggesting that we are obliged to accept only written autopsy papers, made immediately after the death,’ he said.He also maintained his innocence, though at no point did he say explicitly that he was not behind the wheel.Pointing to how he had let police check his car for evidence, he said: ‘(My) lawyers say only an innocent person would act like me, or a crazy one!’When contacted, Mr. Tong’s widow Yenny Young said she had to discuss the compensation offer with her lawyer and relatives, but ‘it’s too late’.His half-sister, Ms. Chua See Wan, added: ‘If the compensation can bring my brother back, then we will accept.’
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