Dr Lee Boon Yang (L) and Mr Ong Ye Kung (R)

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), in a press statement on 12 January, about the stern warnings — in lieu of charges — issued to six former senior executives of the management staff of Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited (KOM) after close to five years of its investigations after consultation with the Attorney’s General Chambers (AGC),

CPIB was reported to have arrested the six former executives from KOM in Feb 2018 following the conclusion of investigations by the United States’ Department of Justice (DoJ). The six were subsequently let off on bail, and the matter was then referred to the AGC to decide if charges were to be filed.

The stern warnings issued to the six were over offences punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA) for 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.

As documented in the plea agreement signed by KOM in December 2017, 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 contracts.

The CPIB, in its statement, justifies its decision not to prosecute the six by saying:

 This case is complex and transnational, involving multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries. There are evidentiary difficulties in cases of such nature. Many of the documents are located in different jurisdictions. In addition, key witnesses are located outside of Singapore and cannot be compelled to give evidence here. 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. Having taken these into consideration, stern warnings were issued to the six individuals.CPIB in its 12 Jan 2023 press release

A senior counsel in Singapore has pointed out the questionable justification by CPIB for not prosecuting the six former executives in a commentary which has been removed from Singapore Law Watch’s website a day after publication.

Putting aside the justification of whether or not to prosecute the six based on the lack of evidence and the transnational nature of the offence, what could have been the other consideration?

Well, one that comes to my mind is the question of how far the chain of command or knowledge goes and the scale of prosecution.

Given the huge amount of bribe monies involved in the offence, it is unlikely that the utilisation of such a sum of money can be hidden among the six, especially in a listed company.

So other than the six who conspired to bribe the Brazilian officials, who else in KOM or its parent company, Keppel Corporation, knew about it? And if these people knew, did they knowingly act on the instructions of the six, give the go-ahead, or did the six go ahead with their plans without the knowledge of the higher-ups?

Those would have the knowledge or gave the go-ahead, would surely qualify to be charged for conspiracy under section 31 of the PCA, “Whoever is a party to a criminal conspiracy, within the meaning of the Penal Code 1871, to commit an offence under this Act shall be deemed to have committed the offence and shall be liable on conviction to be punished with the punishment provided for that offence.”

Former and Current PAP Ministers at Keppel

Given that CPIB had spent five years investigating the matter, the range of individuals it interviewed must have been extensive.

The CPIB, in consideration of whether to charge the six, might be concerned about how it would affect the ruling party’s public standing if certain names were mentioned during the course of the hearing.

Dr Lee Boon Yang, a former People’s Action Party (PAP) minister, was chairman of Keppel Corporation from 2009 to 2021 while Mr Ong Ye Kung, current PAP Minister for Health, assumed the position of Director of Group Strategy & Development, Keppel Corporation in 2013 and only left the company after winning a seat at the 2015 General Election.

Both appointments span the period of time in which the offences were said to have been committed.

Not to say that these individuals are involved in the case in any way, but it is just unfortunate that they happen to assume positions of authority which might expose them to certain knowledge of the offence.

PM Lee’s spouse, Ho Ching was CEO of Temasek Holdings

To add to the inconvenient situation that CPIB is in, it directly reports to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Given that PM Lee’s spouse, Ho Ching, was formerly CEO of Temasek, which is a significant shareholder of Keppel Corporation, the parent company of KOM, when the offences were committed. This 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 regarding the public dissatisfaction over CPIB’s questionable decision.

And even at the Parliamentary sitting that will see questions from Members of Parliament from the Workers’ Party filed regard to the non-prosecution of the six former executives, PM Lee will be represented by Ms Indranee Rajahm, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, instead of having to answer the questions himself.

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