Monday, 1 March 2010

Romanian envoy not likely to return for inquiry

Former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu is unlikely to return to Singapore for a coroner’s inquiry into the death of Mr Tong Kok Wai, which begins on Wednesday.

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Guanyu 道 said...

Romanian envoy not likely to return for inquiry

He blames failing health and the fact that he’s a suspect in hit-and-run

By Sujin Thomas
26 February 2010

Former Romanian diplomat Silviu Ionescu is unlikely to return to Singapore for a coroner’s inquiry into the death of Mr Tong Kok Wai, which begins on Wednesday.

In his first comments to the Singapore media since leaving the country on Dec 18, three days after Mr Tong was killed in a hit-and-run accident involving a Romanian Embassy car in Bukit Panjang, Dr Ionescu said his failing health was the main reason he may not return.

He claimed that he could die as a result of his illness, believed to be diabetes.

Dr Ionescu also said reports that police investigations showed he had been the driver of the car factored into his decision.

But he firmly denied having anything to do with the accident that killed Mr Tong, or another later that day that left two people injured.

The Romanian has been at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent weeks. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) summoned his country’s ambassador to the Republic two weeks ago to request that Dr Ionescu be asked to attend the coroner’s inquiry.

In response, Romania said it had washed its hands of the former charge d’affaires of its embassy here, adding that he was facing criminal charges relating to the hit-and-run accident back home.

On Monday, the case was brought up in Parliament, when Foreign Minister George Yeo said the Romanian government would have to act according to its own law if Dr Ionescu were charged here and a request made for his extradition.

On Tuesday, Romania responded formally to the MFA, repeating that it could not force Dr Ionescu to return as he was no longer a diplomat.

In a phone interview with The Straits Times yesterday, Dr Ionescu was alternately defiant and sombre.

He took the Singapore authorities to task, saying: ‘I read in newspapers that prosecutors (in Singapore) were accusing me long before they had the right to.

‘They should have done a preliminary inquiry first. It was clearly a sign that I shouldn’t come back.’

He claimed that he was willing to come back, but changed his mind after reading reports that he was a suspect.

Turning to his illness, he said in a grave voice: ‘It has been very painful. It is much more serious than I thought it was.

‘Most probably, I will not be able to see the end of the trial here.’

But, he said in an agitated voice, he is determined to clear his name, and will do so in a letter he will send to the Singapore Government in a few days’ time.

He refused to give details, but said: ‘My lawyers have advised me not to do this, but I think I have nothing to hide. It will be my official response.’

Turning to the accident, the Romanian said that though it was ‘very tragic’, it had been blown out of proportion.

He said: ‘Someone died. It’s not something solitary, but happens all over the world. There are bigger stories out there.’

Dr Ionescu grew more agitated when asked about comments he had made to the Romanian media that he had been ‘set up’ by the Singapore Government.

MFA called his comments ‘very serious allegations against the integrity of the Singapore Government’, but dismissed them as baseless and not grounded in fact.

But yesterday, the former diplomat blamed journalists, saying his comments had been taken out of context.

He said: ‘You can’t speak freely. The reporters stop you before you can finish answering and ask you a different question. They were interpreting it from only half of an answer.

‘I hope people will understand my real position.’

He added: ‘I have nothing against the Singapore Government. I really like Singapore, even if we have different systems. I cannot be a judge of that.

‘I don’t want to prove that my system is better than yours.’

Several times, he said: ‘I am not guilty.’

The inquest into Mr Tong’s death will involve 50 witnesses, the largest number to take the stand during a coroner’s inquiry in recent history.