[UPDATE on 15 Feb: adding details of pending MHA proceedings]
Former Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) director Ng Boon Gay was acquitted Thursday of all four charges against him in the sex-for-contracts case that gripped Singapore over the course of the trial that began last year.
Reading out a 32-page oral judgment to a packed courtroom, District Judge Siva Shanmugam impeached the testimony of prosecution witness and former IT sales executive Cecilia Sue, while accepting the evidence and explanations given by Ng where his testimony was questioned.
Pointing out that prosecution lawyers had not disputed Sue's dishonesty in court about her sexual relationship with Ng, he said he found Sue's explanations for her discrepancies in evidence "inadequate".
In her testimony last year, Sue denied she had a sexual relationship with Ng. She painted the picture of a man who became increasingly desperate to obtain sexual gratification in the form of oral sex, though she repeatedly rejected him.
"Her claims that she was tired, stressed and frightened, even if true, would not satisfactorily account for the wide divergence in her evidence," he said.
If Sue's statements after 12 January last year were to be believed, it meant the accused forced her to perform oral sex on him on 2 December 2011, the judge cited.
However, the judge noted that three days later after the incident, Sue messaged "M u", which meant "miss you" and when the accused did not respond, Sue messaged "u ignore me" followed by "W her? Where's family day?"
Six days after the last occasion of alleged forced fellatio, Sue sent the accused a sexually suggestive message "Did u DIY" with "DIY" understood by the accused as referring to masturbation.
"It would be surprising to see such conduct from someone who had been the subject of forced oral sex," the judge noted.
Overall, the judge said he found Sue's explanation for the numerous material discrepancies unconvincing.
"The discrepancies went towards the crux of the charges," he said. "After weighing her oral testimony with the evidence in its entirety, I found that her credit had indeed been successfully impeached."
The judge said he was satisfied that Ng and Sue were in a consensual sexual relationship and that the acts as detailed in the charges took place in that context.
Even though the prosecution had tried to explain Sue's denial of her relationship with Ng, the judge felt that "this in itself is indicative of a disturbing propensity on Ms Sue's part to be untruthful when her own interests are called into question".
"Ms Sue had provided CPIB with two contrasting versions of facts in her statements. As these versions are widely divergent, one of them had to contain untruths. Effectively she has been untruthful to both the court and the law enforcement agency," said Shanmugam. "In the circumstances I was of the view that it would be unsafe to accept any part of Ms Sue's oral testimony on any contentious matter which testimony was not independently corroborated by some other evidence."
Ng's testimony 'largely consistent' with evidence
The judge then elaborated on his assessment of Ng's testimony in court and performance as a witness, declaring that he found that Ng's credit as a witness was not impeached.
He said that Ng had given his evidence in a "forthright manner", where he candidly admitted that he had known of Sue's involvement with his agency after she told him about the deals she closed that involved CNB indirectly, through NCS.
Noting the need for Ng's statements in court to be considered in context, Shanmugam said the issue of whether engaging in sexual acts on an "on and off" basis equates to being a "regular sex partner" is a subjective matter, and that Ng was entitled to decide what was regular or not. Whether or not Sue enjoyed the trysts was also subjective, said the judge, since Ng would not have been in a position to state what was on her mind.
"Contrary to the prosecution's assertions, I found that the accused (Ng)'s statements, when viewed in context, were largely consistent with his claim that he was in an intimate relationship with Ms Sue," he said. He added further that Ng's explanations for all the prosecution's alleged discrepancies apart from his knowledge of Sue's involvement with CNB were "credible and consistent", and that this inconsistency, in turn, was "not particularly material" in the circumstances, and did not go to the crux of the charges against Ng.
He also noted that the process for procurement was driven by CNB's IT department and that the accused did not take part in that process or influence the work of the evaluation committee that reviewed the agency's potential vendors.
Despite acknowledging that there was indeed a conflict of interest, Shanmugam stated that the presence of conflict does not automatically imply that there was corruption. He said he was satisfied that there was neither corrupt element or guilty knowledge on Ng's part in relation to his charges, adding that in his view, throughout the time where the two IT contracts were approved and processed, Ng possessed "no ulterior motive, let alone a corrupt intent".
Shanmugam also noted that even though only Ng's intentions behind the four instances of fellatio were relevant to the trial, he found that both him and Sue had "innocuous" motivations in giving and receiving oral sex.
"On this count alone I found that (Ng) had not only successfully rebutted the presumption (of corrupt intent) but had raised a reasonable doubt in the case against him, which would warrant an acquittal on all four charges," he said, which triggered a wave of relief across the courtroom, in particular Ng's relatives, some of whom teared and hugged one another.
Ng 'vindicated', innocence proven: lawyers
Speaking to reporters after the verdict, defence counsel Tan Chee Meng said it was "vindication of Ng Boon Gay, the fact that he's not corrupt and his innocence has been proven".
Family members around Ng were a picture of relief and gladness, with two of his siblings saying they would be celebrating by paying their respects to their deceased father.
"He (Ng)'s been through a lot of hardship growing up," said his older sister in Mandarin, expressing her relief at his acquittal.
A further statement from Ng's lawyers said he was heartened to be vindicated of his charges, and "relieved that this chapter is soon to be over", adding that there are pending internal processes that need to be completed.
"He is most grateful to his wife, family and friends for their support and unwavering belief in his innocence," the statement said.
When asked about the prosecution's next course of action after the verdict was delivered, a spokesperson from the Attorney General's Chambers said, "The Prosecution will study the grounds of the decision read out by the district judge and assess whether or not to appeal." It has 14 days to decide.
Ng's outstanding internal processes could refer to a series of pending Civil Service disciplinary proceedings commenced in late January last year by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the parent ministry for law enforcement agencies including the police and the CNB.
Then, the MHA charged him for "serious personal misconduct", and it is according to local media reports temporarily suspending its disciplinary proceedings while waiting on the prosecution's decision.
In the meantime, Ng continues to be suspended from his duties with the force pending the outcome of the ministry's proceedings.
The verdict -- pending a possible prosecutors' appeal -- closes a drawn-out trial that began in late September last year, that culminated last month in Shanmugam hearing closing arguments from both sides.
Ng faced four charges of having corruptly obtained sexual gratification from Sue in exchange for advancing her then-employers’ business interests, in the first of a string of high-profile corruption cases that shook Singapore's squeaky-clean image throughout last year.
Former Singapore Civil Defence Force commissioner Peter Lim, who was taken in for questioning around the same time as Ng, is also expected to appear in court next week for the sex-for-contracts charges he is facing.
NUS law professor Tey Tsun Hang's sex-for-grades trial will resume in April, after his former student Darinne Ko, who is at the centre of the charges he faces, testified in court last month.
Another high profile corruption case investigated by the CPIB involves pastor Kong Hee and five other leaders of City Harvest Church, who are together accused of siphoning $24 million, and misappropriating a further $26 million, in church funds to fuel Kong's wife Sun Ho's singing career. Their case will also be heard in the coming months.
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