Amid black robes, a flash of colour


By Chris Lydgate

SINGAPORE, September 23. As the Tang appeal stretched into its second dreary day, a thick white haze from the Indonesian forest fires shrouded the island of Singapore, softening the outlines of skyscrapers in the financial district and drifting through the air outside the stately colonial courthouse.

Inside the Court of Appeal, however, the contrast could not be sharper. On one side of the wood-panelled room, leaders of the Peopleís Action Party were represented by half a dozen of Singaporeís most prominent lawyers, surrounded by a flock of black-robed assistants who assembled a veritable fortress of documents.

On the other side, Tangís legal team consisted of just three people: British silk Charles Gray QC; Tangís former team-mate, 71-year-old Workers Party leader J B Jeyaretnam; and Tangís daughter, Kelly, 23.

Amid the eye-glazing business of affidavits, submissions, torts and conveyances, Kelly Tang Siau Young provided the roomís only flash of colour. Her job: to dig through the staggering array of papers and retrieve crucial files as they are mentioned by Gray or the other lawyers. "I fumble a lot," she said in an interview outside the courthouse. "But thereís really no one else to do it."

Kellyís life was turned upside down at the beginning of the year, shortly after her father fled the country.

On January 27 -- known to the Tangs as "D-Day" -- her motherís passport was seized by immigration officials as she went to visit a friend in neighbouring Malaysia. When they returned home, they found lawyers at their door to serve Mrs. Tang with a Mareva injunction freezing her and her husbandís assets, and joining her in the defamation suits. And later that afternoon, 15 income tax agents arrived to seize her fatherís tax papers--staying until four in the morning and hauling away 71 boxes of documents, most of which her father had transferred from his law office.

Since then, Kelly has lived at home with her mother, giving up her studies as a business student in Australia to help with her fatherís legal defence. She usually works 10 to 12 hours a day drafting letters and organising paperwork--sometimes staying up until 4 AM to get papers filed on time. "Itís not easy," she said. "The moment you file something, something new comes up."

Despite having no legal training, she is responsible for marshalling thousands of court documents for her fatherís appeal-- a bewildering maze of 13 separate defamation suits that has engaged a drove of Singaporeís top law firms representing the PAP leaders.

The Tangs, however, have experienced some difficulty getting local lawyers to represent them. Apart from QC Gray, their primary local counsel has been Mr Jeyaretnam, who has been busy in recent months defending himself against a separate set of defamation suits from PAP leaders.

Since the accusations against her father surfaced last year, Kelly says, the family has received threatening letters and phone calls. In addition, legal papers have been served on them at midnight, and she is certain she has been followed-- although she does not know by whom. "Everytime the doorbell rings, we jump," she says. "Weíre so scared most of the time. Itís made our lives very difficult."

"All I want is for my family to be together," she said. That does not seem likely in the near future, however. In May, a Singapore judge has issued a warrant for Tangís arrest on 33 counts of tax evasion. He was last reported to be in Australia.