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Will CPIB interrogate former Maldivian vice-president over corruption allegations involving Ong Beng Seng in the Maldives?

Singapore’s Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) announced on Friday that its Managing Director, Ong Beng Seng, has been summoned by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in connection with an ongoing investigation involving a cabinet minister.

This development was revealed in a company announcement posted on the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Rumours have been circulating on social media about the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix, an event led by Mr Ong.

These coincide with his ongoing involvement in a CPIB inquiry into his interactions with Minister S Iswaran.

Despite Mr Ong receiving a notice of arrest and posting a $100,000 bail, HPL confirmed that no charges had been filed against him.

Mr Ong will be travelling from 14 July 2023, and upon his return, will surrender his passport to CPIB.

The company stated that Mr Ong is fully cooperating with the CPIB and will continue his role as the Managing Director.

Previously, Mr Ong was implicated in a corruption scandal in the Maldives, as reported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2018.

The case involved the controversial leasing of two islands, Fohtheyo Bodufushi and Lavadhoo, and included key figures like the former Maldivian tourism minister and vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, and President Abdulla Yameen.

According to OCCRP, leaked files suggested that Ong’s company, HPL, sidestepped Maldivian laws that mandate public tender for island leases.

Instead, it appears direct negotiations with the Maldivian officials took place, which included the provision of luxury stays and amenities.

Further allegations emerged about a significant embezzlement scheme. Notably, a $5 million payment for the lease of Fohtheyo island seems to have been misappropriated via a company associated with Adeeb’s friends.

Despite the allegations, Mr Ong has not responded to multiple attempts by OCCRP to seek clarification on these issues.

Adeeb was later charged by the Maldives Criminal Court with embezzlement, money laundering, and misuse of government authority, among other offences, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

According to an asset recovery commission formed by the current government, the islands were sold at below-market prices, leading to nearly $259m loss for the government.

Recently, it was reported that Adeeb is currently in Singapore for medical treatment for a life-threatening vascular disease.

He has been permitted to leave the country for 10 days for treatment, under the supervision of the Maldives Correctional Services and with police security.

Singapore’s CPIB maintains that Singaporeans overseas must comply with the Prevention of Corruption Act as well as the laws of the countries they operate in.

However, this principle was tested when it claimed insufficient evidence to prosecute the six Keppel executives involved in the Brazil bribery scandal because the key witnesses were outside of Singapore.

With Adeeb now in Singapore, it raises the question of whether the CPIB will consider questioning him concerning the case that Mr Ong is alleged to be involved.

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