SINGAPORE — In Parliament on Monday (6 Feb 2023), Indranee Rajah, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, explained that the six former senior management staff members of Keppel Offshore & Marine (KOM) were not prosecuted over a multi-million dollar bribery case due to insufficient evidence.
The six were only given a “stern warning” by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) after spending 5 years investigating them. This decision was said to have been made in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) run by Lucien Wong, who used to be PM Lee’s personal lawyer.
Ms Indranee told the House that the CPIB “had done it best” and that it faced difficulties in gathering evidence in the high-profile case. She said, “Simply put, there is a lack of sufficient evidence, either documentary or through witnesses, which would establish any criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt against a specific individual.”
In 2017, KOM USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of KOM, pleaded guilty to bribing Brazilian officials in the Petrobas bribery case. KOM was able to get several contracts from Petrobas, a Brazilian state-owned company, thereafter.
Ms Indranee acknowledged that KOM USA did enter into a plea bargain agreement with the US authorities and eventually paid a fine of US$422 million. Keppel admitted paying US$55 million in bribes to the Brazilian officials over a period of 10 years.
“While the documents make references to the actions of certain individuals, I have been advised that those references, on their own, are insufficient to establish any offences beyond reasonable doubt without witnesses testifying in Singapore about the context surrounding those actions and the intention behind them,” she said.
Keppel’s lawyer Jeffrey Chow
Ms Indranee had also said CPIB has not had any admissions or confessions from the six former KOM executives. This was in response to a supplementary question filed by Ms Sylvia Lim, Workers’ Party MP for Aljunied GRC.
Regarding whether any prosecution could be advanced in Singapore arising out of the fact that a key witness pleaded guilty in a US federal court, Ms Lim asked Ms Indranee whether he had retracted his confession to the offence.
Ms Indranee said that the witness denied knowing that commissions paid to the agent in Brazil were paid out as bribes when he was investigated by CPIB during his return to Singapore.
The witness is one of the six involved in the bribery case and also was named in the documents as Jeffrey Chow, an American lawyer who had held various positions in the legal department of KOM. Chow travels between the US and Singapore.
During the trial at a US federal court in New York, Chow pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and admitted preparing contracts used to fund the bribe payments. He was subsequently sentenced in 2019 to one-year probation and fined $75,000. The US judge said Chow can serve his probation “in Singapore, where he resides with his wife.” He’s also allowed to visit his mother in Louisiana during probation.
“He did not, during CPIB’s investigations, implicate himself or any others in conspiring to pay bribes,” Ms Indranee said.
She added that even if the AGC applies to a Singapore Court to admit the US plea agreement, the agreement did not identify any specific individuals and was made in the context of a plea bargain, and will be given limited weight without further supporting evidence, and in the face of potentially conflicting oral testimony.
Ms Indranee again reasserted that CPIB has conducted as thorough an investigation as it could. “However, given the cross-border nature of this case and absence of key witnesses, CPIB’s investigations could not overcome the evidential difficulties for the purposes of prosecution in a Singapore court,” she said.
Chow’s testimony in US federal court
Nevertheless, during the 2017 plea hearing at the federal court in New York, the presiding judge gave Chow an opportunity to state, in his own words, what exactly he did in connection with the bribery scheme involving KOM.
Set forth below is what Chow said in court:
“I worked in the Legal Department at Keppel Offshore Marine for over 25 years and among my duties and responsibilities were to draft and prepare contracts with the company’s agents and one of those was an agent in Brazil.
By no later than 2008, I realized that Keppel was overpaying the agent, sometimes by millions of dollars, so that the agent could pay bribes to individuals who could help Keppel Offshore Marine doing business with Petrobras. The Petrobras was a Brazilian state — state-owned and controlled oil company.
Although no one ever named the bribe recipients for me, I knew that they were government officials and ruling political party. I should have refused to draft the contract that we used for paying bribes and I should have resigned from Keppel. Instead, I discussed the economic terms of the contracts with my seniors at Keppel and acting in agreement with my seniors, and others at Keppel, I drafted the contracts and made sure that they were executed.
And at least one case, it was in the U.S., that I sent the executed copy of the contract from Houston, Texas to the agent to confirm that my seniors at Keppel had signed the contract.
While I didn’t negotiate the contracts or make the decisions to pay the bribes, I knew that the contracts existed to make the payments legitimate and that they were an important part of the bribery scheme.
I am deeply sorry for my conduct.”
It’s not known what has happened to the contract signed by Chow’s “seniors” in Keppel, which undoubtedly contained the names of his seniors.