S. Iswaran handed 27 charges including corruption following CPIB investigation; resigns as Transport Minister and MP

The 61-year-old has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which include receiving gratification as a public servant and obstructing justice

Transport Minister S. Iswaran.
Transport Minister S. Iswaran. (FILE PHOTO: MCI)

SINGAPORE — Transport Minister S. Iswaran has been charged in court on Thursday (18 January) with multiple offences, six months after he was arrested as part of an investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).

The 61-year-old was handed 27 charges in all - two of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, one of obstructing justice and 24 of receiving gratification as a public servant under the Penal Code.

Iswaran has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and intends to claim trial. His bail is set at $800,000, with the pre-trial conference set for 1 March.

According to The Straits Times, he arrived at the State Courts at 8am with his legal team, which includes Senior Counsel Davinder Singh from Davinder Singh Chambers. The prosecution team is led by Chief Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng, who is assisted by two Deputy Public Prosecutors, Jiang Ke Yue and Kelvin Chong.

Received concert and football match tickets from Ong Beng Seng

The bulk of Iswaran's charges was for receiving items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng. Charge sheets state that he received "valuable things" worth more than S$384,000 (US$285,000) from Ong between 2015 and 2022.

These ranged from tickets to shows, football matches and various editions of the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. Iswaran also allegedly received a paid-for trip to Doha in exchange for advancing the business interests of Ong.

Iswaran had been actively involved in the government’s engagements with F1, including making appearances at press conferences where announcements about the event’s future have been made. Ong, one of those who played a key role in bringing F1 to Singapore, was also arrested to assist with CPIB investigations last July, around the same time as Iswaran's arrest.

Iswaran's court appearance comes about a week after Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told the Parliament that CPIB's investigations into the matter have been completed, and was being reviewed by the Attorney-General's Chambers. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had placed Iswaran on a leave of absence due to the CPIB investigation.

Iswaran steps down from PAP and ministerial roles

Iswaran has also resigned from the People's Action Party (PAP) and is stepping down from his roles as Transport Minister and Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, according to statement from the Prime Minister's Office.

He will be reimbursing the salary he received as a Minister and allowances as an MP, starting from the commencement of the CPIB investigations in July 2023, the statement from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong read.

PM Lee had placed Iswaran on a leave of absence in July, pending the outcome of the CPIB investigation.

In a separate statement released on 18 January, the Prime Minister's Office confirmed that Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat will assume the role of Transport Minister, while Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu will take over as the new Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations.

Iswaran maintains innocence amid resignation

Iswaran issued a statement hours after his court appearance, rejecting all allegations against him. “I am innocent and will now focus on clearing my name,” he said in the statement.

“I resigned as Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament and as a member of the People’s Action Party because I believe it was the right thing to do.

“Further, I informed the Prime Minister that, even though I am innocent, I will be returning all monies that I received by way of salary as Minister and allowances as Member of Parliament from the commencement of CPIB’s investigations in July 2023.”

Iswaran had been drawing a reduced monthly salary of $8,500 and a full MP annual allowance of of $192,500. He said in his statement that he and his family could not in good conscience keep the monies as he was unable to discharge is duties as minister and MP during that period on account of the CPIB investigation.

Iswaran had been the Minister for Transport since May 2021. His political career spans more than 26 years since he was first elected in 1997 as a Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC.

Government not disadvantaged by F1 contracts: MTI

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) also released a statement on Thursday, saying that there was nothing to suggest that the contracts for the Singapore F1 Grand Prix were structured to the government’s disadvantage.

"The terms of all the agreements were considered carefully by the government. There was an independent consultancy study. There is nothing to suggest as of now that either the F1 contracts or other contracts were structured to the disadvantage of the government," MTI said in its statement.

"All preparations for the F1 Singapore Grand Prix in 2024, which is scheduled for 20 to 22 September, are on track."

Iswaran had served as the Trade and Industry Minister from 2015 to 2018, and was Minister-in-charge of Trade Relations from 2018 until his resignation on Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong - who is set to take over from PM Lee this year - said on Thursday that while the ruling People's Action Party will take a hit from Iswaran’s case, it will not affect the leadership transition timeline.

"The PAP stance on corruption is non-negotiable, this is part of our DNA. There can be no compromise, no relaxation, no fudging on this, no matter the political price," he said.

When asked whether the government will tighten the process for political office holders to receive or reject gifts, DPM Wong noted that a code of conduct for ministers is already in place. “The key principles underpinning the code are clear, they are sound, they are valid," he insisted.

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