Former NLB manager pleads guilty to taking bribes amounting to $600k

Former NLB manager pleads guilty to taking bribes amounting to $600k

A former manager of the National Library Board (NLB) was found guilty of accepting bribes from a director in exchange for securing his business deals with the NLB. 

The accused, a former manager at the NLB Digital Resource Services Department, set up to spearhead its transition into e-books and other digital resources, has pleaded guilty to graft offences amounting to nearly S$600,000.

Ivan Koh Siong Wee, 50, is said to have taken the bribes from a director of three firms, Low Pok Woen, 51, in exchange for advancing his business proposals to NLB.

On Tuesday (4 Aug), each man pleaded guilty to 20 counts of corruption totalling nearly S$500,000. Another 36 similar charges involving the remaining amount will be taken into consideration. The offences committed by the two Singaporeans took place between 2005 and 2009.

The court heard that besides working as a manager, Koh also headed a company known as Speedcuts, which provided hair-cutting services. Low was one of its employees then between 2001 and 2005.

Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPP) Suhas Malhotra, Magdalene Huang and Andre Ong stated in court documents that some time between 2004 or 2005, there was a “strategic move” within NLB towards digitalisation.

“Digitalisation refers to maintaining of informative digital databases, procuring of electronic resources such as e-books and e-comics and microfilming of old books. The digital databases, e-books and e-comics maintained by NLB can be accessed online by NLB members,” the DPPs  said. 

NLB’s Digital Resource Services Department was then formed to spearhead this move. Koh then shared news about this project towards digitalisation in the pipeline with Low.

He suggested to Low that he could explore a business opportunity in providing digital content to NLB.

In November 2005, Low incorporated a firm known as Database Resource Services to provide this service to NLB. He later set up two more, JCD Crossmedia and W3.XS.

The prosecutors said that Koh was appointed as a manager of NLB’s Digital Resource Services Department in 2005, making him the second in command there.

In November that year, he started asking Low for money for various personal purposes. Low then set aside about 30 per cent of all the profits earned from his three firms’ subscription contracts with NLB to be given as bribes to Koh.

In return, Koh helped advance Low’s business interests with NLB in various ways. For instance, Koh shared confidential information with Low on the digital resources that NLB was interested in. Koh also advised Low on what prices to quote NLB. 

The DPPs stated: “With this information, Low could… source the market selectively and supply those resources to NLB when the opportunity came.”

The offences came to light after NLB lodged a police report on 21 Feb, 2014. Koh resigned in November that year. 

Low and Koh’s bail were set at S$80,000 each yesterday. Their cases have been adjourned to 15 Sept.

Responding to media queries, an NLB spokeswoman confirmed that Koh was an employee of NLB. 

“NLB takes a serious view of any corrupt act and does not condone any misconduct by our officers. We expect our officers to uphold the highest standards of duty, conduct and integrity,” she said.

“Since this incident, NLB regularly refines and streamlines our direct contracting process. We also enforce direct verification of sole distributorships and rigorously monitor the evaluation process for subscription renewals, in compliance with the Government’s Instruction Manual.”

According to the Prevention of Corruption Act, a person convicted of an offence shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both, for each count of corruption.

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