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Filipina DH acquitted of stealing money from employer

12 August 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

The court ruled there was  not enough evidence to show Berbana had stolen the renminbi bills from her employer

A Filipino domestic helper maid accused of stealing 1,700 renminbi from her female employer in December 2018 was acquitted of theft today, Aug 12, in Eastern Court following a retrial ordered by the High Court.

Ana Liezel Berbana did not seem to understand Magistrate Philip Chan’s verdict at first, until the Filipino interpreter who was with her told her she was cleared.

Berbana then clasped her hands as if in prayer, and her face beamed with joy.

“Finally my name is cleared,” Berbana said with relief outside the courtroom after her acquittal.

It was the second court victory for Berbana, whose original conviction for the theft charge was quashed on appeal at the High Court.

Asked what her plans are, she said she would go back home to her farmer parents. But before this, she needs to go back to the Labour Tribunal as she still has four claims to settle against her employer, Wong Ma-nger.
These include a month’s salary in lieu of notice that the tribunal had already granted but Wong did not pay fully because she deducted $4,000 for a loan that Berbana purportedly took from her to spend on her sister’s wedding in the Philippines.

Berbana was initially convicted of theft by another magistrate, Lam Tsz-kan, on May 16 last year.

But her lawyer, Philip Ross, successfully had the verdict thrown out on appeal on the ground that Lam had based his judgment on incomplete evidence and incomplete police investigation.
This time around, Berbana’s joy was not complete as the magistrate said he suspected the 35-year-old defendant had indeed taken the money from her employer, based on the evidence presented by the police.

However, he said no one had seen Berbana take the money from her employer’s bag and put it in her jacket’s pocket.

“The burden of proof was on the prosecution, but the prosecution failed to prove her guilt beyond reasonable doubt,” Chan said before pronouncing the helper not guilty.

Ross, who still represented Berbana, applied for costs of $520 for the helper’s expenses in attending the trial and retrial of her case, but Chan rejected the application, citing his suspicion that the maid had taken the money.

Ross insisted on the application, saying the appeal judge had agreed with him that there was breach in the evidence. After a 20-minute break, Chan relented and granted the cost.

Berbana’s acquittal came nearly 20 months after Wong called in the police, alleging that the maid had taken 1,700 renminbi from a bundle of banknotes she had put in an envelope and kept in her black shoulder bag on her bed.

In her evidence during the retrial, Wong said the theft happened on Dec 21, 2018, but later contradicted herself by saying that she noticed the money missing on Dec 20.  

The Filipina claimed Wong had made up the charge because she had complained about being made to work for six adults and take care of a baby. At that time, Wong’s two sons and their girlfriends were all staying in their parents’ house on Conduit Road.

Berbana, who is single, finished one semester in BS Nursing before she worked in Jordan as a domestic helper and then as a tutor and, later, teaching assistant in the United Arab Emirates. She came to Hong Kong to work for the Wongs on Aug 21, 2015.

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