Pritam Singh queries Indranee Rajah on knowledge of Keppel's board at time of corruption

Indranee also responded to questions on stern warnings and guidelines on business conduct overseas.

Matthias Ang | February 06, 2023, 09:43 PM

The Workers' Party (WP) Secretary-General, Pritam Singh, asked in Parliament on Feb. 6 if the investigations by both the police and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) had determined the constructive knowledge of Keppel's board at the time corrupt payments had been made.

Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, had earlier made a statement addressing questions about the basis of issuing a stern warning to the six people allegedly involved in the Keppel Offshore and Marine (KOM) corruption scandal, the process behind the decision to do so, and the significance of the decision.

Indranee: If constructive knowledge is not an offence, there's no reason for CPIB to be investigating

This prompted Indranee to ask the Leader of the Opposition if he was indicating or suggesting that constructive knowledge is an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA).

Singh clarified his query pertained to a reply Indranee had given in 2018 in which she cited a Keppel press release that said the current board of Keppel is unaware of the corrupt payments.

In response, Indranee thanked Singh for the clarification and explained:

"CPIB only investigates offences. Therefore, if the question is whether the investigation included determining if there was constructive knowledge, the answer is, if constructive knowledge is not an offence, there's no reason for CPIB to be investigating this.

CPIB investigates offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act, and that is what they have done. And in this case, unfortunately, there's insufficient evidence for them to mount a prosecution."

Singh clarified his query further and said his point was not constructive knowledge being an offence in and of itself but what it can lead to in terms of identifying individuals who could be identified as knowing more, and being aware of or being involved in the process of the corrupt payments.

"It's about the entire corpus of facts and how that could potentially identify individuals for prosecution since Keppel has already been dealt with as a corporate entity," he said.

Indranee gave the following reply:

"This much I can say: Whatever CPIB has been able to do, or to uncover, or to ask in its investigations in Singapore, with respect to Keppel, it has done.

But the problem is not so much what they have been doing in the investigations here. The problem is that key material witnesses are not available. And that is the problem. That is the hurdle they have not been able to overcome. "

Hence, this is why there have been no criminal charges, she added.

What about expanding the powers of the CPIB to investigate foreign jurisdictions?

In response to PAP MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim's question about amending the PCA to expand the powers of the CPIB so as to facilitate investigation in foreign jurisdictions, Indranee replied in her initial speech that this is impossible to do so.

While CPIB's powers under the PCA allow it to investigate offences committed by Singaporeans abroad, the investigation has to be conducted in Singapore, she said.

She added:

"And regardless of what our law says, it is not possible for our agencies to exercise police powers in another country. That would not be allowed or tolerated by any other country, just like we would never allow a foreign investigative agency to exercise police powers in Singapore."

Leon Perera: If evidence is insufficient, what is the basis for the stern warnings?

Another question was posed by WP Member of Parliament (MP) Leon Perera, who asked what was the basis for the stern warnings issued in light of insufficient evidence for mounting charges.

Here, Indranee answered:

"A stern warning is given when you can't say that you give a complete clean bill of health. But at the same time, you don't have enough to clear the evidentiary hurdle."

So you see, what are the choices? The choices are do nothing at all, or bring charges when you know you don't have sufficient evidence, or is there something in between? The stern warning device is the something in between."

The stern warning, Indranee added, is an expression of the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) position which she described as, "we don't think you are completely off the hook, but we don't have enough to charge you and I want you to know this and I'm putting down a marker that something is not entirely right."

This is the only device available to the AGC, she said.

"It would be a very different thing, for example, if AGC had just thrown up its hands and said 'Okay, close investigation, don't do anything.' That too would not have been the correct thing to do."

Indranee also noted that People's Action Party (PAP) MP Tan Wu Meng had asked about the statistics for warnings and prosecutions, while Progress Singapore Party (PSP) MP Hazel Poa had asked if warnings were issued in other corruption cases.

In her initial speech, Indranee replied that from 2017 to 2021, CPIB has issued an average of 138 warnings annually and 139 individuals were prosecuted.

She added, "Stern warnings are not unusual, being used in cases where there are evidential difficulties or little public interest to prosecute."

How will the government crack down on corruption conducted abroad?

Perera also posed a second question on what the government could do with regard to enforcing the law against acts of corruption that took place abroad.

On this matter, Indranee pointed out that the government does not oversee private companies that operate abroad.

What the government does, she added, is to ensure that companies have good corporate governance.

"We also encourage programmes which require good corporate governance. We have a very strong stance on anti-corruption. So all the signals that we send as government is to tell our companies: Please do business property.

And of course, it's incumbent upon those companies, not the government, to ensure that their staff, their practices are clean and above board and in accordance with proper governance."

DPA imposed multiple conditions on Keppel

Perera was echoed by WP MP Jamus Lim, who highlighted Keppel's status as a government-linked company (GLC) and queried if there are any general stipulations or guidelines provided by the government about the appropriate conduct of their businesses overseas.

In response to Lim, Indranee said that one of the requirements of the 2017 deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), under which Keppel Offshore and Marine had provided details of the bribery, is that Keppel would have to continue to implement a compliance and ethics programme designed to detect and prevent violations of the U.S.' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Keppel also undertook to review its internal accounting controls, policies and procedures regarding compliance with the FCPA and other applicable anti corruption laws, she said.

In addition, Keppel agreed to modify its compliance programme, including internal controls, compliance policies and procedures.

"So in this particular case, all those conditions were imposed, and it is my understanding that they have indeed been carried out because the DPA has been successfully concluded."

During this time, Keppel and Temasek also stated that they carried out programmes designed to make their staff and companies aware of the need for good corporate governance.

In voicing her agreement with Lim about the provision of guidelines on business conduct, she said,

"It is very important because directors, boards, officers of companies, especially large ones, and especially those operating in other jurisdictions, do need to be aware of the need for proper governance, anti corruption and good controls."

CPIB will investigate all cases of corruption, whether they happened locally or abroad

In her initial speech, Indranee also addressed a question posed by PAP MP Murali Pillai regarding under what circumstances CPIB will investigate foreign bribery cases involving Singaporean companies or citizens.

She replied:

"CPIB will investigate all cases whether they happened locally or overseas as long as the alleged offences fall under the ambit of the PCA and the information is credible and can be pursued. CPIB will investigate and submit its findings and recommendations to the PP (public prosecutor), who will then decide if there is sufficient evidence to prosecute."

As for questions posed by PSP NCMP Hazel Poa and WP MP He Ting Ru on Singapore companies being convicted of corruption abroad, Indranee cited the case of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), which pleaded guilty in 2015, in the U.S., to bribery-related offences.

"GDMA was not prosecuted in Singapore as key evidence against the company was not available here and GDMA had been dealt with in the U.S. However, Gursharan Kaur Sharon Rachael, the Singaporean employee of the US Navy, was prosecuted here as evidence of her corrupt conduct was available to CPIB, and she pleaded guilty to those offences."

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