SINGAPORE: Former Transport Minister S Iswaran was charged in the State Courts on Thursday (18 Jan) morning with 27 offences, including corruption, receiving gratification as a public servant and obstructing justice.
The 61-year-old pleaded not guilty to the charges, signalling his intent to contest them in a trial.
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.
Regarding the two corruption charges under Sections 6(a) and 7 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Iswaran is accused of 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).
Iswaran is accused of corruptly obtaining 10 Green Room tickets, eight tickets named “Twenty3” and 32 general admission tickets to the 2022 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix in September 2022.
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.
The items include:
- Two tickets to the show Thriller worth about £200 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK), whom he knew to have a connection with his official function as chairman of the F1 Steering Committee
- Two tickets to the show The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time worth about £270 from Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Two tickets to the football match for West Ham United FC v Everton FC (Boleyn Ground) worth about £468 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings UK
- Two tickets to the football match for Arsenal FC v Tottenham Hotspur FC (Emirates) worth about £550 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Ten Green Room tickets to the 2016 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$42,265 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Ten Green Room tickets to the 2017 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$42,265 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Five Boardwalk tickets to the 2017 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$40,000 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Four tickets to the show Book of Mormon worth about £540 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the football match of Chelsea FC v Southampton FC (Stamford Bridge) worth about £700 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the shows Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Part 1 and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Part 2, worth about £1,000 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the football match for Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC (Emirates) worth about £1,100 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the show Kinky Boots worth about £300 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Six Twenty3 tickets to the 2018 Singapore Formula Grand Prix worth about S$13,193.10 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Thirteen general admission tickets to the 2018 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$16,744 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Four tickets to the show The Play That Goes Wrong worth about £380 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the show School of Rock worth about £560 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the football match for Chelsea FC v Manchester City FC worth at least £120 from Mr Ong
- Four tickets to the show Hamilton worth about £400 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the show Waitress worth about £524 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Four tickets to the show Betrayal worth about £1,080 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Six Green Room tickets to the 2019 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$26,643 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Sixteen general admission tickets to the 2019 Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix worth about S$20,608 from Mr Ong through Singapore GP
- Two tickets for the show Back to the Future worth about £449 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
- Two tickets to the show &Juliet worth about £250 from Mr Ong through Como Holdings (UK)
Defended by Singapore’s top litigator
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.
The latest development follows an extensive investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), which began in July last year.
Following the conclusion of the investigation into Minister Iswaran by CPIB, the case was referred to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) for further action.
This update was first disclosed by Education Minister Chan Chun Sing last week, responding to a parliamentary question from Progress Singapore Party’s Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa.
Minister Chan, representing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, assured the public of the due legal process in handling the case. He emphasized the “robust and thorough” nature of the CPIB’s investigation, highlighting the government’s commitment to integrity and transparency.
The arrest of Iswaran, which took place on 11 July 2023, also involved billionaire businessman 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.
Specific details regarding the nature of the charge have not been provided by the CPIB.
Reports by the online media outlet Asia Sentinel suggest that the origins of this affair could be linked to the London trial for fraud involving Bernie Ecclestone, former Formula One CEO and the F1 Formula race held in Singapore.
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.
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).
After securing his position in the 2020 General Election, Mr Iswaran held on to his role as Minister in the Ministry of Communications and Information.
Later, following a Cabinet reshuffle on 15 May 2021, Mr Iswaran expanded his role by becoming the Minister for Transport, while still maintaining his appointment as Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.
The last instance of a Cabinet minister being involved in a CPIB probe occurred in November 1986, when then National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan was investigated for allegedly accepting bribes. Mr Teh committed suicide before he could be charged in court.
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