Senior CPIB officer charged with stealing S$1.76 million engages lawyer

[UPDATE on 20 August: Edwin Yeo engages defence counsel]

In an unexpected turn of events, a senior anti-corruption officer who is accused of stealing some S$1.76 million in government funds showed up in court on Tuesday with a lawyer in tow.

Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong, 39, who served with the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) as its head of field research and technical support, indicated last month when he was first slapped with 21 charges of financial impropriety that he did not plan to engage a lawyer to defend him.

Yet, former deputy public prosecutor Tan Hee Joek, currently a partner at Tan See Swan & Co, confirmed with Yahoo! Singapore on Tuesday that he was engaged by Yeo, albeit declining to say when in the past month he was hired.

In court on Tuesday, Tan asked for an additional month to receive further instructions from Yeo, and had Yeo's $500,000 bail extended until his case is next mentioned on 19 September.

Last month, Yeo was slapped with 21 charges of misappropriating and misuse of funds, criminal breach of trust and forgery that allegedly took place between 2008 and last year.

According to the CPIB, Yeo was in mid-September last year suspended and interdicted from his position as head of field research and technical support at CPIB to assist in a Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) probe into his suspected financial impropriety.

Eight of these were for misappropriating funds and criminal breach of trust, one was for forgery and the rest were in using part of his ill-gotten gains to gamble at the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) casino.

While in active duty at the CPIB, Yeo is said to have stolen the $1.76 million between 2008 and August last year. He is known to and believed to have spent a total of 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.

Since then, said public prosecutors, about $67,000 has since been recovered from that amount.

In court then, he pleaded with the District Judge to give him an additional eight to 10 weeks "to settle (his) family problems".

Yeo said he also needed time to prepare his own representation and mitigation, appealing for a lower bail because he "fulfilled all obligations at the investigation stage" and further, he said, has a low flight risk.

His passport was impounded, and bail was fixed at $500,000. Yeo was held in custody, but successfully raised the amount in the afternoon and is now out on bail.

CPIB director 'deeply sorry' for lapse

In a statement released in response to news of the case, CPIB director Eric Tan said he was "deeply sorry" that the lapse occurred on his watch.

"As the most senior officer in the agency, I accept responsibility for any lapses or deficiencies which allowed a senior staff's actions to go undetected for four years," he said. "CPIB will learn from this. It will strengthen its safeguards and improve its processes to prevent this from happening again."

According to the CPIB, its officers are required to file annual declarations regarding their financial liabilities, and to confirm that they are free from financial embarrassment -- a process required of other public officers as well.

In Yeo's case, however, the CPIB said there were instances where these procedures and declarations were circumvented.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has appointed an independent review panel to look at the possible lapses into the agency's audit system and financial procedures, said a statement from the Prime Minister's Office.

Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean, also the minister in charge of the Civil Service, added that this case is "particularly serious" because it involved a senior officer in the CPIB.

"We will take strong measures to tighten up processes. PMO is examining whether any supervisory lapses may have contributed to this incident."

According to the CPIB, Yeo is not the first of its officers to have been prosecuted for wrongdoing. In 1997, a senior special investigator was jailed for a year for cheating, while in 2002, a senior research officer was sentenced to two years for corruptly accepting gratification to divulge classified information.

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