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Minister Iswaran interviewed by CPIB at its headquarter for nearly 10 hours on Tuesday

Online media outlet Asia Sentinel suggests that the origins of CPIB investigation could be linked to the London trial for fraud involving former F1 CEO, Bernie Ecclestone.

SINGAPORE — Transport Minister S. Iswaran made a notable appearance at the headquarters of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on Tuesday (18 Jul) morning, marking the first time he has been observed by the media since his arrest on 11 July.

According to reports from Singapore mainstream media, Mr Iswaran, 61, who is currently under investigation by the CPIB, arrived at approximately 10:50 am in a grey Mazda 6 and entered the CPIB complex in Jalan Bukit Merah unaccompanied.

The investigation apparently lasted nearly 10 hours, with a TODAY reporter spotting him leaving at 8.48 pm the same day in a dark-coloured Audi sports utility vehicle.

On Monday, Prominent businessman Ong Beng Seng, 77, returned to Singapore from Bali, amid an ongoing corruption probe by the anti-graft body.

Last Friday (14 Jul), the CPIB disclosed that both Transport Minister S. Iswaran and tycoon Ong Beng Seng were arrested on 11 July.

They are currently cooperating with the authorities in connection with an investigation into a case that the CPIB had discovered. However, specific details regarding the nature of the probe were not provided by the CPIB.

Both Mr Ong and Iswaran were subsequently released on bail, with Iswaran’s passport confiscated. The amount of bail for Iswaran was not disclosed, but it was known that Ong was granted bail of $100,000.

Mr Ong’s arrest was first disclosed by his company, Hotel Properties Limited, earlier the same day.

This disclosure came a day after The Online Citizen Asia (TOC) published allegations that Ong had been asked to assist in a CPIB investigation related to rumours linked to the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix, an event chiefly organized by Ong.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong previously disclosed that he was informed about the case by the CPIB as early as 5 July, and he gave his approval to the Director of CPIB on 6 July. This led to the formal commencement of the investigation on 11 July. Nevertheless, it was only on July 14th that CPIB revealed the minister’s arrest in response to media queries.

PM Lee has instructed Minister Iswaran to take a leave of absence until the investigation is concluded.

The Transport Minister will remain in Singapore during this period and will be denied access to any official resources and government buildings.

Ong is best known as the man who brought Formula One to Singapore

Mr Ong is renowned as the exclusive shareholder of the Singapore Grand Prix (GP), serving as the organizer of this annual sporting event which forms part of the Formula One World Championship.

Additionally, he holds ownership of various hotels worldwide. Ong and his wife, businesswoman Cristina Fu, are esteemed members of Singapore’s 25 richest couples.

In 2007, he secured the deal to bring the prestigious Formula One race to Singapore, primarily due to his rapport with former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.

Source: Getty

CPIB allegedly received a tip-off from a Singaporean individual

While Singaporeans await further information from the CPIB regarding Minister Iswaran’s arrest, reports by the online media outlet Asia Sentinel suggest that the origins of this affair could be linked to the London trial for fraud involving Ecclestone.

In June of this year, Ecclestone formally pleaded not guilty to the allegation of failing to declare a trust in Singapore, which allegedly holds about £400 million in a bank account, to Britain’s government.

A source provided a tip-off suggesting that the F1 accounts were used as evidence to demonstrate corruption.

Among the entries, there was a payment mentioned, allegedly made to Ong, serving as reimbursement for covering Iswaran’s expenses related to the use of the VIP lounge at the F1 event in Singapore.

Subsequently, a Singaporean individual reportedly noticed this entry and informed the CPIB, the Asia Sentinel reported.

Singapore GP extended contract to host the F1 night race through 2028

Last year, Singapore GP, backed by Mr Ong and the Singapore Tourism Board, extended the city-state’s contract to host the F1 night race through 2028.

This was the fourth and longest contract renewal, with previous deals ranging between four and five years.

The renewal has sparked debates on the value of hosting the event, as it involves substantial costs of approximately S$150 million annually, with the government covering 60 per cent of the expenses.

Mr Iswaran, who was the former Minister for Trade from 2015-2018, said that the decision to host Formula One for another seven years came after thoroughly evaluating the long-term benefits that such an extension could bring to Singapore.

In 2021, Iswaran told the media that talks were ongoing with Formula One management and race organisers Singapore GP to renew the contract.

While the race has undoubtedly put Singapore on the global map and promoted its entertainment facilities in Sentosa, the benefits and costs have become topics of discussion.

The Tourism Board stated that the race attracts around 350,000 visitors annually and generates hundreds of millions in receipts and sales. However, concerns have been raised about the associated expenses and the government’s financial involvement.

Trip to the UK’s Silverstone?

Asia Sentinel reported that according to reports circulating in Singapore, which have not been officially confirmed, there are allegations that Mr Ong organized a trip to the Silverstone track in the UK for Iswaran and a team from the transportation ministry to persuade them to renew the annual race.

During the alleged trip to the UK, Mr Ong reportedly hosted the ministry staffers in one of his London hotels and arranged a dinner, in addition to providing tickets to a concert by Adele.

However, most of the ministry team felt uneasy about these gestures and declined, with only one staffer accepting the offerings.

In Mr Ong’s defense, a viral message claimed that he had initially paid for the VVIP suite offered to Minister Iswaran, but inadvertently claimed it as an expense from his joint organizing partner, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB).

Ong allegedly provided advance notice for F1 race’s renewal

Asia Sentinel added that inquiries made to reliable insider sources within Mr Ong’s reputed “old boys’ network” suggested that Mr Ong had provided advance notice to business contacts about the F1 race’s renewal.

Allegedly, this advanced information allowed his business associates to prepare and potentially secure contracts related to Formula One, such as hospitality, construction, and scaffolding, ahead of the official tender announcements.

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