Murderers. Maid abusers. Rapists. And he defends them all
This article was first published on Dec 7, 2003
If someone's in big trouble and needs a lawyer, chances are he'll call Subhas Anandan.
And when he meets the 55-year-old lawyer to talk, he may find him dressed in a T-shirt or kurta (loose collarless shirt), unless he has to attend court.
His clients feel more comfortable with him that way, said Mr Anandan.
This is the man who has made a name for himself by taking on the most difficult criminal cases. Many have been the talk of the town, especially in recent years.
One such recent case involved former television presenter Vidya Shankar Aiyar, who is accused of molesting a 30-year-old woman.
In his 32-year career, Mr Anandan has defended more than 1,000 people, including such high-profile criminals as:
Anthony Ler, who coached a teenager to murder Ler's wife;
Loan shark Chua Tiong Tiong, also known as Ah Long San, who was jailed 10 years for corruption;
Former bookie Rajendran 'Pal' Kurusamy, who was jailed for 18 months and fined $200,000 for match-fixing;
Ng Hua Chye, who starved his maid and beat her to death; and
Remittance agent Lam Chen Fong, who swindled more than 1,000 workers from China of $8.8 million to feed his gambling addiction.
Once while he and his son, Sujesh, were watching a CrimeWatch programme on TV which featured one of his cases, the boy asked him: 'Papa, don't you have any good clients? Everybody seems to be a murderer.'
He told his son he did have good clients, but that the TV programme was about bad people.
Whether the people who come to him are petty offenders, molesters, kidnappers, killers or drug pushers, he doesn't turn them away.
But he did refuse to act for kidnapper robber Abdul Nasir Amer Hamsah in his appeal to have his two sentences run concurrently instead of consecutively.
Mr Anandan said he turned him down because he felt that the jail terms - 18 years for robbery with hurt, and life for kidnapping - were fair.
Even the most heinous offender, he said, deserves a proper trial.
He said: 'We cannot say, This is a rapist. This is a terrorist. We do not want to defend him'.
'Let's put it this way: Who is the lawyer to decide if the person is guilty or not? The moment you decide about the guilt or innocence of people, then there is no need for a court of law.'
If the principle - that a man is presumed innocent till proven guilty - is not respected, he said, then the system breaks down.
Other lawyers, some of them long-time friends like Mr Noor Mohamed Marican, 53, of Marican & Associates, said Mr Anandan gets along well with prosecutors, judges and lawyers, and commands their respect.
'His outright honesty - that is something of an outstanding feature for Subhas.
'He tells the client when there is no case. He tells the judge when he has no defence,' said Mr Marican.
Mr N.K. Rajah, 49, once his partner at MPD Nair and Company, and who now runs his own firm, said Mr Anandan didn't mince his words, yet had a 'very relaxed' way of doing things.
Another long-time lawyer friend, Mr Edward D'Souza, rates him as Singapore's best criminal lawyer today.
Very engaging, very decent and very generous. Not long-winded or garrulous, Mr D'Souza said.
'The reason he is such a good lawyer is that he never wastes the court's time. The judges respect him because he will never mislead the court,' he said.
As far as he can remember, he said, Mr Anandan never takes notes.
'His cross-examination is all in the head because he's got a remarkable memory, almost photographic.
'He doesn't waste time on hopeless points. He goes for the nitty-gritty and he knows what the kernel of a case is.'
Mr Anandan isn't just a local legend.
In late 2001, for example, he made international headlines when he defended Julia Suzanne Bohl, a 24-year-old German who faced the death penalty for drug trafficking. She was eventually jailed on the lesser charge of possessing cannabis.
He was also amply interviewed and quoted in regional newspapers last year when he represented Mohamed Nazir Mohammed Uthman, 28, one of the 13 Jemaah Islamiah members detained under the Internal Security Act in 2001.
Yet, ask him about memorable clients and he will recall a conman he defended in the 1980s - the most intelligent and recalcitrant he's ever come across, he said.
The man, then in his 30s, cheated people - including women seeking husbands - of millions.
Mr Anandan said: 'I still think about him. He is short and unassuming but one of the biggest conmen that I have met.
'He pretended to be an income-tax officer and made Smith Street merchants pay $100,000 to $200,000 so that he will not go and tax them,' he recalled.
The conman was found out when one merchant had his premises raided a week after he had paid off the bogus taxman.
Life now is very different from when Mr Anandan was called to the Bar in 1971, or even when he became a partner at MPD Nair and Company in 1977.
Now he gets recognised on the street and waiters fuss over him in restaurants.
It's not just the cases he handles but that his face is so recognisable and that he delivers such good soundbites.
'The media always likes to quote me. In my submissions, I became like a quotable quote sort of thing,' he said.
For instance, he said of the disgruntled retiree who missed his target and poisoned three other people by accident at a grassroots party: 'The man is 57 years old, do we need to use a sledgehammer to finish him off?'
He joined Harry Elias Partnership as a consultant in July 2000, when the firm was looking to beef up its criminal practice.
The following year, the firm was named the best criminal practice in the Asian Law Awards Singapore 2001. The Law Society named Mr Anandan top lawyer in 2001. Mr Elias had won the honour the previous year.
At the time he joined, people were betting he wouldn't last six months in such a big firm. 'They thought I would be a square peg in a round hole,' he said.
But both Mr Elias and senior partner Tan Chee Meng give him free rein.
The criminal practice team includes his wife's nephew, legal assistant Anand Nalachandran, 28, who assists him in most of the criminal matters.
The bosses are very supportive, even when he takes on pro bono clients who do not pay.
One of them was Anthony Ler, a 'cool customer' right to the end, Mr Anandan noted.
It was Ler's mother who sought him out, weeping, to defend her son, said Mr Anandan.
Then, there are the clients who also become friends.
'They remember my birthday and send me hampers,' he said. One client, on learning that Mr Anandan's wife, Vimala, was away, took him out for dinner with her husband.
Some of his closest friends call him 'Basher' because of his stinging courtroom tactics.
He's also called 'Gangster' and 'Mafia' - usually affectionately.
He covers cases, he said, in a precise way and doesn't beat around the bush.
In the recent trial of the hotel rapist, he was sharp and focused, cross-examining the victims based on his instructions and keeping details to a minimum to avoid distressing them.
When he has a case on, he relaxes by playing snooker at the Singapore Cricket Club, just across the street from the Supreme Court.
Lunch is light - usually just a sandwich - so that he doesn't doze off in court.
Mr Anandan said he doesn't get paid by the number of cases he brings to the firm.
He is assured of at least a six-figure allowance annually. 'Quite sufficient,' he said.
He also receives commission and bonuses once he has achieved a particular target.
When he doesn't have a case on, he reads a lot.
He even reads his son's Harry Potter books to have something to discuss with him, the Chicken Soup series of inspirational stories, Reader's Digest and religious books.
His son, Sujesh, a student and a prefect at ACS (Independent), is just 13.
Mr Anandan was 39 when he married Vimala, who is now in her 40s. She was a secretary in his old firm MPD Nair and Company then.
Now, she is a homemaker and ferries him to work from their apartment in Leonie Hill.
His life as a top criminal lawyer may seem glamorous, but it has taken its toll on his health.
He had a heart attack in 1978, and two more in 1993 and 1997. Medication and vitamins are part of his daily routine as he is also a diabetic and has kidney problems.
He's also had to give up smoking and now takes only a drink or two at parties.
Still, he goes on working.
Next year, he is scheduled to defend Ng Kwang Lim, 46, who is accused of murdering a university professor at the National University of Singapore last August.
Bring on the soundbites.
Some of his clients
Tan Chun Seng (2003)
He was sentenced to death for murdering deaf-mute Krishnan Sengal Rajah, 44, in Little India in 2001.
He won the appeal and was, instead, jailed for 10 years for culpable homicide.
Quek Loo Ming (2002)
The retired forensic scientist (above) was jailed for nine years for culpable homicide and another three years for causing grievous hurt, with the sentences to run concurrently.
He had spiked a bottle of water with pesticide and poisoned three people who drank from it. One died and the other two became seriously ill.
On appeal, his jail term was increased to 15 years.
Ng Hua Chye (2002)
The former tour guide (above) was sentenced to 18 1/2 years' jail and 12 strokes of the cane for manslaughter and for abusing his 19-year-old Indonesian maid Muawanatul Chasanah. Her battered and malnourished body was found on Dec 2, 2001.
Saminathan Subramaniam (2002)
He was given life imprisonment and 18 strokes of the cane after pleading guilty to manslaughter and robbery. He had originally been tried for murdering his wife's godfather by strangling him with a sari.
Anthony Ler (2001)
Ler was sentenced to death for instigating a 15-year-old to murder his estranged wife, Madam Annie Leong, 30, in Hougang Avenue 9 on May 14, 2001.
Tong Tien See (2001)
The former managing director of construction company Tong Tien See Construction was cleared of pocketing $710,000 of the company's funds between 1997 and 1999.
Nadasan Chandra Secharan (1997)
He was acquitted by the Court of Appeal of murdering his lover by running over her with a van in 1995.
Abdul Nasir Amer Hamsah (1996)
He was acquitted of murdering a Japanese tourist at Oriental Hotel in 1994 but was sentenced to 18 years and 18 strokes on a reduced charge of committing robbery with hurt.
In March 1997, he was convicted of kidnapping two corporals at the Criminal Investigation Department lock-up. He got a life sentence and six strokes of the cane, to be added on to the first sentence.
He argued his own appeal but lost.