'Assertions' about CPIB's handling of KOM corruption case made on inadequate understanding of facts: Indranee Rajah

She stated that the public can decide for themselves, after she "explain the facts" in Parliament on Feb. 6, 2023.

Fiona Tan | February 03, 2023, 06:00 PM

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Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah wrote in a Facebook post that she was aware there were "assertions" about the stern warnings issued by Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) over the Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd (KOM) corruption scandal.

She added in the Feb. 2 post that these "assertions" were made based on an "inadequate understanding" of facts.

Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance, said she would address questions filed by various Members of Parliament in the House.

KOM corruption scandal background

Six ex-KOM senior management staff were found to be involved in paying bribes amounting to US$55 million (S$73 million) to officials of Brazilian state-owned oil giant Petrobras between 2001 and 2014.

The payments, which were made to help KOM secure thirteen projects in Brazil, were concealed using consulting agreements with shell companies that were controlled by an intermediary, or consultant, who will then transfer the monies to the intended parties.

KOM admitted to this modus operandi, and provided details of the bribery, as part of a deferred prosecution agreement in 2017. It was issued a conditional warning in lieu of prosecution and paid a total fine of US$422 million as part of a global resolution.

CPIB's decision

CPIB announced on Jan. 12, 2023 that it had issued the six former KOM staff stern warnings in lieu of prosecution on Jan. 11, following consultations with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).

In its explanation, CPIB said: "This case is complex and transnational, involving multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries. There are evidentiary difficulties in cases of such nature."

"Many of the documents are located in different jurisdictions. In addition, key witnesses are located outside of Singapore and cannot be compelled to give evidence here."

CPIB wrote that it took into consideration all relevant factors, such as the culpability of each individual, the available evidence, and what is appropriate in the circumstances, when deciding whether to prosecute the six individuals, before it settled on the decision to issue stern warnings.

Summary of Harpreet Singh Nehal's commentary

Senior Counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal wrote a commentary piece regarding the scandal on Feb. 1, 2023.

Harpreet Singh Nehal's commentary was published on the Singapore Law Watch (SLW) website on Feb. 1, 2023, a free daily news service for the law community, as an issue in its SLW Commentaries series.

He also wrote a Facebook post about his commentary on the same day.

Image screenshot from Facebook.

Noting CPIB's justification, that the case was complex and transnational in nature, Harpreet wrote that the decision to issue stern warnings was "discomforting" in the absence of further information.

Questioned whether CPIB's decision was justified

He questioned whether CPIB's decision was justified, stating that the complex and transnational nature of the case alone does not justify a non-prosecution.

He also added that prosecutors have access to "a very large amount of evidence of the bribery scheme".

Besides this, CPIB has extensive investigative powers over the six ex-KOM senior management staff as they all appear to be within Singapore's jurisdiction, and also advanced digital forensic tools and resources that can be used to collect further evidence at its disposal.

In the event that the evidence required to secure a conviction is overseas, Harpreet said "Singapore authorities have recourse to international assistance from their foreign counterparts".

Difficult to appreciate CPIB's non-prosecution decision

In light of this, Harpreet stated: "It is, therefore, difficult to appreciate the decision not to prosecute based on the CPIB’s limited explanation."

"Add to this the fact that KOM itself has openly admitted its involvement in the bribery and paid a massive US$422 million fine; this is one of the largest bribery scandals in Singapore’s history; the corrupt acts involved the wholly owned subsidiary of a Singapore public listed company; senior management of KOM were implicated; the pattern of criminal conduct extended over a decade; and huge sums in bribes were involved."

However, he noted for that CPIB may not have fully explained its reasons and justified its decision in its "overly general" press release, and thus raised more questions than answers.

A full justification, with sufficient detail, is in national interest

Harpreet asked what exactly is the missing evidence against the six ex-KOM staff that is preventing an effective prosecution from being mounted, considering "the voluminous evidence and information" that are already available, and whether these individuals have made admissions and if these admissions can be used to in lieu of the missing evidence.

He also wanted to know who are the "so-called 'key witnesses' who are located overseas" and whether their evidence was so crucial that a conviction cannot be secured without their testimony, and how and why are the foreign documents so important in securing a conviction and whether assistance has been sought from foreign authorities for their acquisition.

Lastly, Harpreet also asked: "Is the evidence in this case such that not even a single individual was sufficiently blameworthy to warrant a prosecution?"

"It is in the national interest that a full justification, with sufficient detail on the questions posed, is given for the decision not to prosecute in this case," he said.

Mothership understands that Harpreet's commentary has been taken down as of the evening of Feb. 2, 2023 and has reached out to SLW for comment.

Indranee: Criminal charges would have been brought if there were grounds and sufficient evidence

Indranee's post was shared one day after Harpreet's commentary was published.

She said that she was aware that "some people have made assertions about the stern warnings issued by CPIB".

Indranee said that these "assertions" have been made "based on an inadequate understanding of the facts and of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) between KOM and the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office."

She said that criminal charges would have been brought if there were grounds and sufficient evidence to do so.

"At the same time, criminal proceedings cannot be initiated based on sentiment. The rule of law applies both ways."

Indranee said she will address parliamentary questions that Members of Parliament have filed on the KOM corruption scandal, as well as "explain the facts in Parliament" on Feb. 6, 2023 and the public can decide for themselves thereafter.

Minister for Law K Shanmugam shared Indranee's Facebook post on Feb. 2, 2023, and said that she will "explain the facts".

MPs submitted questions on the topic

Members of Parliament (MPs) from both the People's Action Party (PAP) and Workers' Party (WP) have filed questions regarding the topic, which will be addressed when Parliament convenes next week — Feb. 6, 2023.

PAP MPs had asked questions related to getting more details on the reasons for issuing stern warnings; and concerns about penalties being too light.

WP MPs have submitted more than 10 questions, ranging from the government's decision not to prosecute six former senior management staff, to whether the decision not to prosecute might affect Singapore and Singaporean companies' reputations.

You can read the ministers' posts below:


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Top image from Indranee Rajah/Facebook and KOM 2019 newsletter