Ang Mo Kio Town Council corruption case: Ex-manager's jail term increased

Wong Chee Meng, the former general manager of Ang Mo Kio Town Council. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
Wong Chee Meng, the former general manager of Ang Mo Kio Town Council. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A former general manager and secretary of Ang Mo Kio Town Council who was sentenced to 27 months’ jail for taking bribes from a contractor had his jail term increased to 39 months at the High Court on Thursday (16 July).

Along with the jail term, Victor Wong Chee Meng had been given a financial penalty of $23,398.09 as disgorgement for the financial gratifications he received over a two-year period. He was sentenced at the State Courts in November last year.

Both the prosecution and Wong then appealed against the sentence.

The 59-year-old pleaded guilty in the middle of his trial in March last year to three counts of receiving tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. These amounted to a $13,500 discount on a purchase of a car, about $27,800 in remittances to his mistress in China and $34,070.40 in entertainment expenses – at various KTV lounges, restaurants, massage parlours and a hotel.

He initially faced 55 counts of graft; the crimes were committed between December 2014 and September 2016.

Wong took the kickbacks from Omar Chia Sin Lan, 62, the director and major shareholder of two firms, whose core business was the carrying out of works for town councils. Chia’s two companies, 19-ANC Enterprise and 19-NS2 Enterprise, were awarded tenders and contracts by AMKTC worth millions of dollars during the period that Wong accepted the bribes.

Wong initiated the graft by asking Chia for a discount on the car and to provide financial assistance to his mistress. Chia gave the gratifications with the purpose of advancing his companies’ business interests, as Wong’s position had given him the perceived ability to grant favours to contractors.

On Thursday (16 July), Chia also had his jail term increased from 21 months to 33 months. He initially also faced 55 counts of graft and similarly pleaded guilty to three amalgamated charges shortly after Wong threw in the towel.

Two charges of a similar nature, involving Chia finding employment for Wong’s daughter-in-law, as well as the use of a free mobile phone line and free phone, had been taken into consideration for both Wong and Chia’s sentencing. The total amount involved across all the charges against the duo was $86,141.49.

Meanwhile, a fine of $75,000 each had been imposed on 19-ANC Enterprise and 19-NS2 Enterprise, an amount based on factors such as the gratification given, the size and reach of the company and the number of people caught in the web of corruption.

The prosecution had earlier sought a jail term of at least four years and eight months for Wong, as well as a financial penalty of $23,398.09. It also asked for four years and two months’ jail for Chia.

Offences caused harm to third parties

Both men, who began serving their jail terms in November last year, appeared before Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon on Thursday via teleconference.

In his written judgment, CJ Menon said, “Chia derived substantial benefits from his cultivation of Wong. Wong, as an insider in AMKTC, was able to provide Chia and the companies with invaluable assistance and support, intervening on several occasions to ensure that their interests were protected or even advanced.”

The judge added that “the offences caused harm to third parties such as competitors of the companies, who were forced to compete on unequal terms due to the favourable treatment accorded to the companies by Wong.”

“Though there was no evidence specifically that any of these competitors suffered the loss of business that would have been obtained but for Wong’s interventions, this was not the issue....the public procurement process is built on fairness and transparency,” he said.

Businessmen competing with Chia’s companies for AMKTC projects were entitled to assume that the tender process was being carried out in a fair and equitable manner, CJ Menon pointed out.

The chief justice also found that the offences were “fairly sophisticated and involved considerable planning and premeditation”.

“Chia deliberately sought to cultivate Wong over a period of time to advance the business interests of the companies,” he said. “Chia also disguised and concealed payments to Wong such as by channelling the remittances through an intermediary and paying for entertainment expenses either through a corporate debit card from (another company) or in cash.”

Meanwhile, Wong’s interventions on behalf of the companies were “subtle and designed to make the offences hard to detect”, CJ Menon said. These included playing up the companies’ strengths where possible, directing investigations into one of their competitors and generally providing advice and assistance through a direct and personal channel of communication, he said.

Wong had also abused his position as the general manager of AMKTC and the high degree of trust reposed in him to commit the offences, the chief justice noted.

In December 2016, media reports said that Wong was being investigated by anti-graft investigators. Wong, who worked for CPG Facilities Management – AMKTC’s managing agent – was asked to go on leave following a complaint filed against him in September 2016. He was removed from his positions at the town council in November that year.

AMKTC oversees the housing estates in Ang Mo Kio GRC.

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