Professor Sattar Bawany from the Disruptive Leadership Institute, wrote a letter to TODAY which was published last Wednesday asking the government to disclose the status of the corruption probe into the Keppel O&M corruption scandal (‘Govt should disclose status of probe into Keppel O&M corruption scandal, enact harsher penalties for bribery acts‘, 20 Jan). The scandal was first reported by Bloomberg in 2016.
In the report, Keppel O&M was accused of bribing Brazilian officials in order to secure billions of dollars worth of oil rig building contracts from Brazil. At least five senior Keppel officials were said to be involved. According to testimonies in a Brazilian court, the Keppel officials told a Brazilian middleman that he could act on Keppel O&M’s behalf to bribe Brazilian officials so as to get those lucrative deals.
In his letter, Prof Sattar pointed out that Keppel O&M was involved in an international corruption saga that took place between 2001 and 2014, with bribes totaling up to US$55 million.
In December 2017, the criminal authorities of Brazil, Singapore and the U.S. reached an agreement and the US Department of Justice reported that Keppel O&M “knowingly and wilfully conspired” to pay bribes as part of a “decade-long scheme” to win 13 contracts with Petrobas and Sete Brasil, Prof Sattar noted. Keppel O&M was forced to pay more than US$422 million in fines to resolve the charges that it bribed Brazilian officials.
“The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) issued a conditional warning then to Keppel O&M,” Prof Sattar recalled.
“In 2018, Ms Indranee Rajah, then Senior Minister of State for Law, said that the offenders were still being investigated by the CPIB, and the Public Prosecutor will determine whether to prosecute them after investigations are completed.”
“It has been nearly three years and we have yet to hear any updates on the matter,” Prof Sattar said. “The question that I have been asked frequently is whether there will eventually be any enforcement action against the individuals involved.”
Prof Sattar said that this case has tarnished Singapore’s hard-earned reputation for low corruption, as well as its ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which was painstakingly developed by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his pioneer leadership team.
The Keppel O&M case also highlighted the need to review the present anti-bribery laws that could be strengthened to better deter graft offences overseas, Prof Sattar opined.
“I hope that the Singapore Government will provide an update on the status of the investigations into the long-standing Keppel O&M case as well as consider the proposal for enacting tougher laws to deter graft practices locally as well as overseas.”
CPIB can’t comment on Keppel O&M case
CPIB replied today. However, it said that it can’t comment or provide status updates so as to “protect the integrity of investigations”(‘CPIB can’t comment on Keppel O&M case, says Singapore’s corruption control framework is effective‘, 26 Jan).
“We understand the writer’s concerns on the progress of the Keppel O&M case,” wrote Shawn Chew, the Assistant Director of CPIB.
“However, we cannot comment or provide status updates on ongoing cases so as to protect the integrity of investigations, which are confidential in nature and to avoid prejudicing any prosecutorial decision that might follow.”
“We assure the letter writer and the public that the CPIB remains resolute and committed to combat corruption and CPIB will not hesitate to take offenders to task,” Chew added.
In his reply, Chew also defended Singapore’s record in fighting corruption saying that the corruption situation in Singapore is “firmly under control”. He said that the number of corruption-related reports received by CPIB has been on a downward trend for the last five years.
He said that Singapore is well-regarded by the international community for its incorruptibility and clean public service. He pointed to Singapore’s consistent ranking in the last decade as one of the world’s top 10 least corrupt nations by Transparency International.
“(This) is a testimonial to this hard-earned reputation,” Chew defended Singapore. Singapore was ranked 4th by Transparency International in its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. “Similarly, Singapore has also been ranked top least corrupt country in Asia by Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, a position we have maintained since 1995,” he added.
With regard to Singapore’s corruption control framework, Chew said that it remains “effective in combating corruption”.