SINGAPORE: The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is set to decide on the investigations involving billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng once the case against former Transport Minister S Iswaran concludes, as stated by a spokesperson on Thursday (18 Jan).
In response to media queries, the AGC highlighted that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) examined the involvement of “other persons” in the matter, including Mr Ong.
“The Attorney-General’s Chambers will take a decision in respect of the investigations against Mr Ong and others, after the case against Mr S Iswaran has been completed, including the presentation of evidence in court,” a spokesperson said.
Mr Ong, who also serves as the managing director of Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), was arrested on 11 July 2023, the same day Iswaran was taken into custody.
He posted bail of S$100,000 and was permitted to travel starting 14 July, subsequently surrendering his passport to the CPIB.
During the time, HPL clarified that no charges had been filed against Mr Ong, and he was called upon to provide information regarding his interactions with Iswaran.
The company assured that Mr Ong was fully cooperating with the anti-corruption agency.
HPL’s nominating committee determined that Mr.Ong could continue fulfilling his duties and responsibilities.
Iswaran at the time was instructed to take a leave of absence and had his passport confiscated following the CPIB arrest.
The CPIB’s discovery of incriminating information against Iswaran was first indicated to Prime Minister Lee on 29 May 2023.
A formal interview with Iswaran was deemed necessary by CPIB’s Director and was approved by the Prime Minister on 6 July 2023, leading to Iswaran’s subsequent arrest five days later.
On Thursday morning, Mr Iswaran entered a plea of not guilty to all 27 charges linked to his interactions with Ong Beng Seng.
The court heard that the 27 charges included two counts of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 24 counts related to receiving items from individuals with whom he had business dealings in his capacity as a public servant, and one charge for obstructing the course of justice under the Penal Code.
According to charge sheets, between 2015 and 2022, Iswaran received “valuable things” exceeding S$384,000 (US$285,000) from Ong.
These included tickets to shows, football matches, and multiple editions of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix.
Bringing Formula One to Singapore
Mr Ong, a Malaysian based in Singapore, is renowned as the exclusive shareholder of the Singapore Grand Prix (GP), serving as the organizer of this annual sporting event, which forms part of the Formula One World Championship.
In addition, the 79-year-old boasts a global hotel portfolio and commands a substantial net worth of S$1.7 billion.
Mr Ong and his wife, businesswoman Cristina Fu, are esteemed members of Singapore’s 25 wealthiest couples.
In 2007, he secured the deal to bring the prestigious Formula One race to Singapore, primarily due to his rapport with former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.
In October 2022, Singapore once again hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix after Singapore GP, backed by Ong and the Singapore Tourism Board, secured the franchise to host the night race for another seven years through 2028.
This was the fourth and longest contract renewal, with previous deals ranging between four and five years.
Then-Transport Minister S Iswaran said that the decision to host Formula One for another seven years came after thoroughly evaluating the long-term benefits that such an extension could bring to Singapore.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourism Board fund 60 per cent of the S$135 million night race costs each year, with race promoters Singapore GP footing the rest.
Previous controversy of Nassim Jade condo incident to Maldives leasing scandal
The recent controversy is not the first time Mr Ong has faced such issues.
The 1990s saw questions over luxury condominium units sold by his company to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son.
The units, part of the Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 condominiums, were allegedly sold at special discounts.
This raised eyebrows due to Mr Ong’s familial links with the Lees – his uncle, Lee Suan Yew, was a director at HPL.
Although then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong cleared the Lees of any wrongdoing in 1996, the incident has remained a notable mark on Mr Ong’s business record.
Furthermore, an investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in 2018 revealed allegations of corruption involving Mr Ong in the leasing of two islands in the Maldives.
The report suggested that HPL had sidestepped Maldivian laws requiring public tender for island leases, instead conducting direct negotiations with Maldivian officials.
It was also alleged that a US$5 million payment made for the lease of Fohtheyo island had been siphoned off through a company associated with friends of the then Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Mr Ong did not respond to these allegations.
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