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31 crematorium and funeral services workers sternly warned for red packet practice

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has issued stern warnings to crematorium workers for receiving red packets from funeral services employees in return for giving the latter preferential treatment.

In a statement released on Thursday (19 September), the CIPB said they were notified by the National Environment Agency (NEA) nearly a year ago on October 2018 of a complaint the agency received which alleged of such practice.

The CPIB said that a total of 17 Environmental Health Attendants (EHAs) working in Mandai Crematorium and Columbarium (MCC) were involved as well as 14 employees from funeral services employees.

The 17 workers were each given a stern warning for one count of “corruptly accepting gratification from funeral directors and hearse drivers at MCC as an inducement to smoothen the crematorium process”. They face departmental disciplinary action for violation of the Public Service Instruction Manual.

Of the 14 funeral services employees, two were given stern warnings for one count each of “abetment to corruptly give gratification in the form of a red packet to an agent from NEA as an inducement to smoothen the cremation process”, an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Another 12 employees were sternly warned for one count each of “corruptly giving gratification in the form of a red packet to an agent from NEA” for the same reason.

On top of the 31 employees, two senior officers from the NEA also faced departmental disciplinary action for failing to report these corrupt practices despite being fully aware that they were happening.

The Straits Times reported that the reason the employees were warned instead of prosecuted was due to a lack of evidence to show that they failed to perform their duties or that they had disfavoured families who didn’t pay them red packets.

The report also stated that the warnings were issues on Thursday.

Had those involved been prosecuted, they face up to five years in jail or a fine of up to S$100,000 or both if convicted.

The CIPB emphasised in its statement that all complaints and information are evaliated seriously, regardless of the nature or value of gratification involved in order to determine whether it constitutes corruption. It elaborated, “A gift given innocently and without any corrupt intention is not considered corruption. However, if a gift is given or received with a view to secure, or to reciprocate with, for example, an unfair advantage, it may be corruption.”

Charged for S$1 bribe

In December 2018, two forklift truck operators employed by Cogent Container Depot Pte Ltd were each charged with “embarking on a course of conduct to obtain small value bribes” from truck drivers at Cogent.

A 47-year-old forklift driver was charged one count of corruptly attempting to obtain a bribe of $1 as an inducement for not delaying the collection of a container and another count of embarking on a course of conduct between May 2016 and March 2018 of corruptly obtaining a gratification of similar value from truck drivers at Cogent. Another 43-year-old forklift driver was also charged for a similar offence and gratification value.

At the time, the CIPB said that people can be taken to task even for a bribe as low as $1, adding that bribes of any kind won’t be tolerated.

“Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption. It is a serious offence to bribe, or attempt to bribe another individual or entity,” said CIPB.

Conditional warning for massive corruption scandal

Going a little further back to December 2017, CIPB had only issued conditional warnings in lieu of prosecution to Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd (KOM) for making corrupt payments to officials of Brazilian state-run oil company, Petroleo Brasileiro S.A. (“Petrobras”), and other parties, in order to win contracts with Petrobras and/or its related companies.

The case was part of an investigation led the United States’ Department of Justice (DOJ) into the Brazillian bribery scandal. CIPB said in a statement that the warnings were part of a global resolution led by the DOJ and discussed with Brazil and Singapore.

The statement added, “In issuing the Conditional Warning in lieu of prosecution, due consideration was given to the substantial cooperation rendered by KOM to the investigations (which included KOM’s self-reporting to AGC and CPIB of the corrupt payments made by it) and the extensive remedial measures taken by KOM.”

However, we do note that as part of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) entered into by the DOJ and KOM, the company was made to pay a criminal fine of over USD 422.2 million to the US, Brazil and Singapore.

At the time, investigations into the individuals involved in the scandal were still ongoing. In February 2018, several former executives of Keppel Corp and its offshore and marine units were arrested in relation to this case and were referred to the Attorney-General’s Chamber.