Only 1 case of 'questionable use' of diplomatic bags by S'pore staff in past 5 years

A director-general of the MFA is facing charges.

Hannah Martens | January 10, 2024, 02:21 PM



There were "no instances of questionable use" of the diplomatic bag in the past five years, except for the one case before the courts, said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Vivian Balakrishnan, in parliament on Jan. 10, 2024.

He was responding to questions from Members of Parliament (MP) Vikram Nair and Alex Yam on using diplomatic bags, asking what MFA's internal guidelines are and whether MFA is taking any steps to manage the risk of misuse.

System and guidelines in place for proper use

Diplomatic bags are used for the conveyance of official documents, and limited quantities of personal items are allowed to enable staff to fulfil their overseas duties effectively, said Vivian.

"We have a system and guidelines in place for the proper use of the diplomatic bag, and we will review our processes periodically," he said.

Spot checks on diplomatic bags

Vikram asked if spot checks are carried out on diplomatic bags.

Vivian replied that staff have to declare items in the diplomatic bag.

"The items must not contravene any import or export restrictions imposed either by Singapore or by the receiving state," he added.

The diplomatic bags are also subject to x-ray surveillance, like all other baggage that goes onboard planes and any other checks legally permissible under diplomatic practice.

The one case before the courts

On Nov. 23, 2023, Gilbert Oh Hin Kwan, who was a director-general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), faced three charges.

This included deceiving MFA, abetting the cheating of the ministry and giving false information to a public servant.

Oh allegedly sent a package containing Panadol from Singapore to Beijing via the diplomatic bag service in December 2022.

He allegedly told MFA it was for a colleague working in MFA's embassy in Beijing, but the Panadol was for a personal acquaintance.

Oh also allegedly instigated the colleague to send him a package containing luxury watches from China to Singapore via the diplomatic bag service on Jan. 12, 2023.

On Jan. 19, 2023, Oh allegedly gave MFA false information that the luxury watches in the package belonged to his father.

Top photos via Bhutan Times/Facebook & Mothership file photo