SINGAPORE — Keppel Offshore and Marine Ltd (KOM)’s corrupt actions in Brazil dealt a blow to Singapore’s reputation, and the decision not to prosecute will “cause more damage” to Singapore’s reputation than the reprehensible acts that were perpetrated, said Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), former Singtel CEO and former Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS).

Last Thursday (12 January), the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) made a press statement about the stern warnings issued to six former senior executives of KOM after close to five years of its investigations after consultation with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC).

The offences relate to bribe payments to officials of Brazilian state-owned corporation Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras), pertaining to rigs-building contracts which Petrobras and/or its related companies had awarded to KOM.

According to the admissions and court documents, beginning by at least 2001 and continuing until at least 2014, KOM conspired to violate US’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by paying approximately US$55 million in bribes to officials at the Brazilian state-owned oil company Petrobras, and to the then-governing political party in Brazil, in order to win 13 contracts with Petrobras and another Brazilian entity.

KOM and its related entities, including KOM USA, are said to have earned profits totalling approximately US$159.9 million from the P-61 project.

CPIB said the case is “complex and transnational”, Individuals investigated are not named

CPIB said in its press release that the case is “complex and transnational”, involving multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries.

The enforcement body also explained that the decision whether to prosecute the six individuals for criminal offences has to “take into consideration all relevant factors”, such as “the culpability of each individual”, the available evidence and what is appropriate in the circumstances.

While the Singapore Government has not chosen not to name the six who were issued stern warnings over the offences. The plea agreement and media reports have already identified who these six individuals might be.

LHY: Keppel’s corruption case on “a breathtaking scale”

When commenting on CPIB’s decision in his Facebook post on 14 January, Mr LHY reminded that KOM’s corrupt actions in Brazil “dealt a blow to Singapore’s reputation”.

Mr LHY, who is also the son of the late Lee Kuan Yew and younger brother of the current Singapore Prime Minister, said the corruption was on a “breathtaking scale.”

“The facts, which were initially vehemently denied, have since been admitted by Keppel.”

He shared a link to the Deferred Prosecution Agreement, in which details of investigations by the United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ) are set out in the document.

In the document, KOM has pleaded guilty to the charge against it and acknowledged the alleged offences that the company has committed.

CPIB’s excuse “does not withstand scrutiny”

While CPIB justified that the case is “complex and transnational, involving multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries”, Mr LHY said CPIB’s excuse “does not withstand scrutiny”, since CPIB has successfully prosecuted other international cases of Singaporean corruption committed overseas before.

Mr LHY stressed that the decision of not to prosecute the six former senior executives of KOM “stands in stark contrast” to Singapore’s widely touted policy of zero tolerance to corruption, and the uncompromising approach taken in many cases, sometimes involving minuscule sums of monies.

One such example that the public can think of is where two forklift drivers were jailed for months after receiving bribes of $1.

“Furthermore, this latest case is in fact a repeat corruption offence for Keppel and also for some of the individuals involved,” Mr LHY added.

CPIB emphasised that employees are expected to carry out their duties fairly instead of obtaining bribes in exchange for favours. Even if the bribe amount is as low as $1, they can be taken to task.

Bribes of any amount or any kind will not be tolerated, said CPIB, who added, “Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption. It is a serious offence to bribe, or attempt to bribe another individual or entity”

“The decision not to prosecute will cause more damage to Singapore’s reputation than the reprehensible acts that were perpetrated.”

Mr Lee shocked Singaporeans when he made the decision to join the Progress Singapore Party member (PSP) during the General Election 2020, an opposition party formed by former People’s Action Party Member of Parliament Dr Tan Cheng Bock.

Commenting in a Facebook post after joining PSP, Mr LHY wrote, “Today’s PAP is no longer the PAP of my father. It has lost its way.”

Netizens questioned why CPIB did not name the six former KOM executives

A number of netizens commented on Mr LHY’s Facebook post, expressing their disappointment with CPIB and questioning why only stern warnings were given to the six individuals involved.

Netizen C Sing Ow criticised CPIB for giving a lame excuse for not taking action on those former executives in KOM:

While netizen Gary Tan questioned why Singaporean authorities did not name the individuals involved and quoted what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong once said about cover-ups.

Netizen Ryan Tan opined that the issue is worth being debated in parliament, “I am looking forward, MPs not only from the opposition but also the ruling side to question this issue.”

PM Lee once said Singapore will not cover up for those involved in corruption

Back in 2012, PM Lee swore to punish corrupt officials, no matter how senior they were.

“Anyone who breaks the rules will be caught and punished. No cover-up will be allowed, no matter how senior the officer or how embarrassing it may be,” PM Lee told CPIB officers during the agency’s 60th Anniversary on 18 September 2012.

“It is far better to suffer the embarrassment and to keep the system clean for the long term, than to pretend that nothing has gone wrong and to let the rot spread, “PM Lee added.

But given that PM Lee’s spouse, Ho Ching was CEO of Temasek Holdings, a significant stockholder of Keppel when the offences were committed, and that CPIB directly reports to him, makes CPIB’s decision not to prosecute the six Keppel executives kind of awkward.

To make things even worse on the matter of public perception, the Attorney-General who decides on whether to proceed on charges for offences committed is Mr Lucien Wong, PM Lee’s former lawyer who had assisted him in the Oxley Road dispute with his siblings.

No statement has been made by PM Lee or the ministers regarding the public dissatisfaction over CPIB’s questionable decision at the time of this post’s publication.

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