Former Transport Minister S Iswaran has been charged with multiple offences including corruption and obtaining valuables as a public servant. The charges come after a months-long probe into Iswaran’s interactions with property tycoon Ong Beng Seng.
Iswaran pleaded not guilty to all 27 charges, which include two counts of corruption, one count of obstructing justice, and 24 counts of obtaining valuables as a public servant.
Iswaran was accused of accepting “valuable items” with a value exceeding S$384,000 (US$285,000) from Ong between 2015 and 2022, as mentioned in the charge sheets. The items included tickets to shows, football matches, as well as different editions of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix. Additionally, he is alleged to have received an all-expenses-paid trip to Doha in return for promoting Ong’s business interests, according to CNA.
THE TIMELINE OF ISWARAN CASE
- July 5, 2023: CPIB seeks to open investigations into potential corruption involving Iswaran.
- July 11, 2023: CPIB begins investigations into Iswaran and other individuals involved in the case.
- July 12, 2023: Iswaran and Ong Beng Seng are arrested by the CPIB.
- July 12, 2023: CPIB makes the probe public, and Deputy Prime Minister Wong provides additional details about the investigation.
- July 13, 2023: Iswaran agrees to remain in Singapore during the probe.
- July 14, 2023: Ong Beng Seng leaves Singapore following his arrest.
- July 18, 2023: Iswaran and Ong Beng Seng are seen at the CPIB headquarters, likely for further questioning.
- July 20, 2023: Questions arise as to why the arrests were not made known to the public earlier.
- August 2, 2023: Parliament hears about Iswaran’s pay cut due to the ongoing investigations.
- September 19, 2023: Parliament debates motions to suspend Iswaran from his position.
- January 9, 2024: Parliament is informed of CPIB’s completed probe into Iswaran’s alleged corruption.
- January 18, 2024: Iswaran is officially charged with corruption by the authorities.
RESIGNATION LETTER & PM’s RESPONSE :
According to the charges, Iswaran is accused of receiving over S$166,000 worth of flights, hotel stays, and event tickets from Ong Beng Seng in exchange for advancing his business interests. He is also accused of obtaining about S$218,000 worth of valuable items in his role as a minister and chairman of the F1 Steering Committee.
The first corruption charge states that Iswaran corruptly obtained gratification from Ong Beng Seng in relation to a contract between Singapore GP and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB). The second corruption charge alleges that Iswaran received gratification in exchange for advancing Ong Beng Seng’s business interests over a contract with a public body and a proposal for a contract with STB to establish the ABBA Voyage virtual concert in Singapore.
In addition to the corruption charges, Iswaran is accused of obstructing justice by making a repayment of S$5,700 to Singapore GP, which was allegedly the cost of a business flight ticket from Doha to Singapore that he took at Ong Beng Seng’s expense.
The remaining 24 charges against Iswaran relate to obtaining valuable items as a public servant. These include tickets to various shows, football matches, and the Singapore Grand Prix, all allegedly received from Ong Beng Seng through Como Holdings (UK) and Singapore GP. Iswaran, who resigned from his positions in government on Tuesday, appeared in court surrounded by lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers. He made no comment to the waiting reporters at the court but issued a statement later.
These are all the items that Iswaran is purported to have acquired in his roles as a minister and chairman of the F1 steering committee.
- Iswaran apparently received 40 tickets to 13 plays and musicals in the UK, with a total value of S$10,693. Additionally, he allegedly obtained 16 football match tickets worth S$5,646, including matches between West Ham United FC and Everton FC, Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC, Chelsea FC and Southampton FC, Arsenal FC and Liverpool FC, and Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC.
- Furthermore, Iswaran purportedly received a significant number of F1 Grand Prix tickets, including 36 Green Room tickets, 5 Boardwalk tickets, 14 Twenty3 tickets, and 61 general admission tickets. The total value of these tickets amounted to S$347,152. The Twenty3 tickets provide premium access, while the Green Room tickets and Boardwalk tickets offer special privileges and viewing options.
- In December 2022, it is alleged that Iswaran received gratification from a person named Ong. This included a private plane ride from Singapore to Doha valued at S$10,410.40, a one-night stay at the Four Seasons Doha worth S$4,737.63, and a business class flight from Doha to Singapore worth S$5,700. These benefits were supposedly given in exchange for advancing Ong’s business interests in agreements with the Singapore Tourism Board and a proposal for a contract related to the ABBA Voyage virtual concert.
I AM INNOCENT – ISWARAN
Iswaran has proclaimed his innocence and denied all charges against him, including corruption and obtaining valuables as a public servant, following his court hearing.
In a statement released on Thursday (Jan 18), Iswaran stated, “I am innocent and will now focus on clearing my name.”
The former minister also revealed that he had submitted his resignation letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday, even without being asked to do so. He went on to inform the Prime Minister that he would be returning all monies received as salary and allowances since the investigations began in July 2023, as he believed it was the right thing to do.
Iswaran, who has been a member of the People’s Action Party for nearly three decades, explained that he and his family made the decision to return the funds as they could not in good conscience keep them while being unable to fulfill his duties as a minister and member of parliament due to the ongoing investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.
Iswaran expressed sadness at no longer being able to serve the residents of West Coast, where he had been a Member of Parliament for 26 years.
The bulk of the charges against him revolve around receiving items worth over S$384,000 (US$285,000) from billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng, including tickets to shows and football matches.
If convicted, Iswaran could face up to two years in jail, fines, or both for obtaining a valuable thing as a public servant. For corruptly obtaining gratification under the Prevention of Corruption Act, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in jail, fined up to S$100,000, or both. The penalty for obstructing justice is also up to seven years in jail, fines, or both.
Deputy Prime Minister Responds
“The PAP stance on corruption is non-negotiable, this is part of our DNA. There can be no compromise, no relaxation, no fudging on this, no matter the political price.”
The leadership transition remains on track”, DPM added.
In a recent statement, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong assured the public that the People’s Action Party (PAP) will not waver on its commitment to tackling corruption, despite the setback caused by S Iswaran’s recent case. He emphasized that the party’s stance on corruption is “non-negotiable” and a fundamental part of their DNA.
While acknowledging that the corruption charges against Iswaran will inevitably impact party morale, Wong firmly stated that it will not affect the leadership transition timeline. He confirmed that the leadership transition will occur before the next General Election and the next PAP party conference in November 2021, emphasizing that this plan remains on track.
When questioned about the timing of elections, Wong explained that the leadership transition must occur prior to the general election. He further added that the government will decide on the election timing accordingly. Wong also addressed whether the government would tighten the process for political office holders receiving or rejecting gifts. He highlighted that there is already a code of conduct in place for ministers, which includes clear principles regarding gifts that could create conflicts of interest.
Wong acknowledged that the recent case has left many civil servants disappointed, shocked, and saddened, particularly those who have directly worked with Iswaran. However, he urged them to recognize that the incident demonstrates the PAP government’s determination to uphold a corruption-free system.
As Singapore continues its efforts to prevent and deter corruption, Wong emphasized that while the system is robust, it cannot entirely eliminate the risk. Despite this setback, the PAP remains steadfast in its commitment to combat corruption and uphold the integrity of Singapore’s political landscape.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers will make a decision on the investigation into Ong Beng Seng after Iswaran’s case is completed.
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