DPM Teo: Latest high profile CPIB case 'particularly serious'

[UPDATED at 2:15pm: adding comments from Law Minister K Shanmugam]

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Wednesday called the latest graft case involving a senior civil servant "particularly serious".

In a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office shortly after 39-year-old Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officer Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong was charged in court with misappropriating more than S$1.7 million from the anti-graft agency, the minister outlined a series of measures that will be taken in light of the case.

These include a study of recent instances of misbehaviour within the civil service, as well as an independent review audit to examine the source of the lapses that occurred within the CPIB that allowed Yeo's alleged crimes to happen.

In total, the assistant director in Field Research and Technical Support faces 21 charges -- eight of misappropriating funds and criminal breach of trust, one of forgery and the rest of using part of his ill-gotten gains to gamble at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino.

As head of field research and technical support at CPIB, Yeo is said to have stolen the $1.7 million between 2008 and August last year. He is known to and believed to have spent slightly more than $240,000 at the casino between 4 May and 8 September last year, around which time the bureau first caught wind of his alleged activity.

Among the charges are instances of Yeo swiping more than $700,000 in cash and $470,000 from a CPIB bank account. He was also said to have gambled at MBS at least 12 times, with transactions recorded from his POSB bank account ranging from $8,250 to $45,550 used for that purpose.

More involved?

DPM Teo, who is also the Minister in charge of the Civil Service, said in a statement, “This case is particularly serious because it involved a senior officer in the CPIB, which is entrusted with the mission of maintaining the integrity of the system."

“We will take strong measures to tighten up processes.
PMO is examining whether any supervisory lapses may have contributed to this incident. If so, it will take action against the officers responsible," he added.

DPM Teo also acknowledged public concern over the n
umber of high profile criminal cases involving civil servants.

Police staff sergeant Iskandar Bin Rahmat has been charged with the double murders at Kovan while former Central Narcotics Bureau chief Ng Boon Gay was recently acquitted of corruption. Ex-SCDF chief Peter Lim was also jailed six months for corruptly obtaining sexual favour earlier this year.

In 2011, Koh Seah Wee, formerly a deputy director of information technology at the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) was sentenced last month to 22 years' in jail for cheating the government of more than S$12 million.

"As there have been a number of high profile cases recently, the public is understandably concerned about whether this reflects systemic issues in the Public Service. The Service itself is concerned about this," said DPM Teo.

He revealed that the Prime Minister's office had asked both the Commercial Affairs Department and CPIB to conduct a study of public officers investigated for corruption and other financial crimes over the last five years to see whether there was any change in their number or profile.

The study results will be shared by the Head of the Public Service next week.

PM Lee has also initiated an an independent audit into possible lapses within CPIB's processes when this new case came to light and measures are now being implemented.

Charges, if true, should be dealt with 'decisively and firmly': K Shanmugam

Separately, Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam said the allegations against Yeo need to be dealt with "decisively and firmly".

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a Law Week exhibition at the Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon, the minister said the charges, if true, are "disturbing and deeply disappointing".

"Inevitably with human nature, you will have people who succumb to temptation, who do things that they aren't supposed to do -- whether in the civil service, banks, law firms, in institutions, there are, despite having best controls, human ingenuity; somebody will try to beat it," he said. "What we need to do is to always be vigilant, be on top of it and make sure these are the exceptions and they don't become the norm."

Asked about whether he is considering additional steps to further tighten already very strict anti-corruption laws among civil servants, Shanmugam said he feels the current ones in place are sufficient.

"The best banks in the world... the best minds in the world deal with this all the time. In the end, it's not always possible to legislate or put rules in that completely eradicates misbehaviour," he said. "The real way, what you can do, is to make sure this doesn't become the cancer that spreads right through, that the system as a whole is clean, not infected.

"And for that you need leadership which is honest, prepared to deal with it openly and in court, regardless of who it is, take action, have strict laws and also learn the lesson from each time something happens to see whether there are any rules that need to be changed," he continued. "But you know that every now and then, this will happen, but the whole task is to make sure that they are a distinct minority."

Additional reporting by Jeanette Tan

Related news:
Senior CPIB officer charged with misappropriating S$1.7 million