The pre-trial conference for the graft case involving former Transport Minister S. Iswaran is scheduled for 1 March, after his plea of not guilty to all 27 charges on Thursday morning (18 January).
He had tendered his resignation from Parliament and the People’s Action Party (PAP) on Tuesday.
The court heard that the 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.
Mr Iswaran is defended by his lawyers, including Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, Mr Navin Thevar, Ms Sheiffa Safi Shirbeeni and Mr Rajvinder Singh from Davinder Singh Chambers.
On the prosecution side, Chief Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng leads the team, supported by Deputy Public Prosecutors Jiang Ke Yue and Kelvin Chong.
During the court session, Chief Prosecutor Tan listed the charges Iswaran faces and requested his plea.
Judge Tan sought clarification, and Iswaran affirmed his intention for the plea to be taken immediately, responding with “Not guilty, your honour.”
Subsequently, the prosecutor requested an adjournment for a pre-trial conference and the extension of agency bail – amounting to S$800,000 – for Iswaran.
Iswaran could have faced 36 charges
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, the lead lawyer for Iswaran, raised a significant concern regarding the number of charges.
He said: “Your honour, on Monday, the CPIB charged my client with 36 charges and took cautioned statements on all 36 charges. ”
“This morning, we learnt from documents that were handed to us by the prosecution that there are now 27 charges.”
Seeking clarification, Singh inquired, “I’d like to know from my learned friend whether the prosecution is proceeding with the remaining nine charges.”
In response, Chief Prosecutor Tan conveyed that the prosecution had decided not to proceed with the additional nine charges, emphasizing, “considering all the evidence that was in this case.”
Singh then requested the court to acknowledge this decision, highlighting the abrupt change within two days.
He expressed his surprise at the swift alteration, underscoring the perceived significance of the shift in the prosecution’s position.
“According to my learned friend, that is because they have reviewed all the evidence. But I would have thought, your honour, that the evidence would’ve been reviewed thoroughly before the 36 charges were levelled against my client on Monday.”
“And so, for now, all I would say is that it is surprising but highly significant that after what I assumed was a thorough review and the levelling of the nine charges, in a matter of two days, there has been a complete change of position. I will say no more about that for now,” said Mr Singh.
In response, Chief Prosecutor Tan stated, “I think my learned friend will understand that the evidence will include whatever the accused has stated in his cautioned statements. That’s all I have to say so far.”
“If my learned friend wants to pursue this subsequently we will address it in future.”
Following further discussion, the judge scheduled the case for a pre-trial conference on 1 March.
Iswaran allegedly received items worth over S$384,000 from Ong Beng Seng
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.
Iswaran is accused of two corruption charges under Sections 6(a) and 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, allegedly receiving approximately S$145,434 in gratification from billionaire Ong Beng Seng in September 2022.
This alleged inducement was to promote Ong’s interests in connection with a contract between the Singapore Grand Prix and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).
Additionally, in December 2022, Iswaran allegedly obtained gratification valued at $20,848.03 from Mr Ong.
This was purportedly in exchange for advancing Mr Ong’s interests regarding a contract between the Singapore Grand Prix and the STB, along with a proposal for a contract with the STB.
The specific items reportedly obtained in the alleged corrupt transactions include an outbound flight on Mr Ong’s private plane from Singapore to Doha, estimated at US$7,700, one night’s stay at the Four Seasons Doha valued at approximately S$4,738, and a business class flight from Doha to Singapore with an estimated worth of about S$5,700.
Allegations of obstructing the course of justice
Additionally, he faces allegations of obstructing the course of justice on or around 25 May 2023.
As detailed in court documents, he allegedly made a repayment of S$5,700 to Singapore GP, equivalent to the cost of his business flight ticket from Doha to Singapore.
This act was carried out with the knowledge that it was likely to obstruct the proper functioning of justice.
Individuals convicted under Section 6(a) may face imprisonment for a maximum of five years, a fine of up to S$100,000, or both.
Similarly, under Section 7, the potential penalties include imprisonment for up to seven years, a fine of up to S$100,000, or both.
For the offence of attempting to obstruct the course of justice, the consequences entail a possible imprisonment term of up to seven years, a monetary fine, or a combination of both.
Allegations of receiving valuable items totalling S$218,058.95 from Mr Ong over 24 occasions
As a public servant, Iswaran is accused of acquiring valuable items with a cumulative worth of approximately S$218,058.95 from Mr Ong on 24 occasions between November 2015 to December 2021.
He allegedly either received this through Mr Ong directly, Mr Ong’s company Como Holdings (UK) or Singapore GP.
This alleged series of transactions occurred against the backdrop of Iswaran’s awareness of Mr Ong’s connection to his official role as the Chairman of the F1 Steering Committee.
Singapore’s first ministerial criminal charge
This case marks a historical first in Singapore, being the first instance of a minister being charged with a criminal offence while in office.
The arrest of Iswaran, which took place on 11 July 2023, also involved Ong Beng Seng connected to the same corruption probe.
Following their arrest, both individuals were released on bail. Iswaran was instructed to take a leave of absence and had his passport confiscated.
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.
As the investigation continues, Minister Iswaran has been restricted from leaving Singapore and accessing official government resources and buildings.
His ministerial salary has been reduced to S$8,500, although he continues to receive his annual Member of Parliament allowance of S$192,500.
Mr Iswaran’s political journey began with his election debut in 1997 when he was part of the four-member team of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in the West Coast GRC.
Prior to his suspension, he was in charge of the GRC’s West Coast ward.
In the wake of the 2011 General Election, Mr Iswaran’s hard work was acknowledged as he ascended to the full ministerial role in the Cabinet. He was appointed Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Home Affairs, and Second Minister for Trade and Industry.
Following the 2015 General Election, Mr Iswaran embarked on a new journey as he gave up his three positions in October 2015 to assume the responsibility of Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry), serving alongside Mr Lim Hng Kiang, who held the role of Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade).
On 1 May 2018, Mr Iswaran diversified his portfolio by becoming the Minister for Communications and Information whilst continuing his role as Minister In-Charge of Trade Relations in the Ministry of Trade and Industry (Singapore).
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