Graft case: MDA man was mired in gambling debts

Graft case: MDA man was mired in gambling debts
Lai obtained money from recipients of MDA grants, after running up debts through gambling on ships and in casinos.

A senior officer at the Media Development Authority (MDA) obtained loans from various recipients of MDA grants to clear his gambling debts, a district court heard yesterday.

Lai Wai Khuen, an MDA assistant director, admitted to the anti-graft agency that he had accumulated substantial debts from frequent gambling on cruise ships and in casinos, and had solicited loans to pay them off.

The 37-year-old, who has been suspended from duty, pleaded guilty to six charges - one each of trying to get a loan and forgery, and four of getting loans of between $1,500 and $5,000.

He was originally charged with 27 counts of corruptly getting loans and one count of trying to get a loan as an inducement for facilitating the approval and disbursement of grants. He also faced three forgery charges.

Employed by MDA as a manager in 2009, Lai was promoted in July 2011 and appointed assistant director a year later, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Jiang Ke-Yue.

As assistant director, he headed a team of eight who managed talent development, the Mediapolis, publishing and media services, among others.

Part of his duties was to administer MDA grants, which meant evaluating applications and recommending awards under various schemes for assistance in development, production and marketing.

Once a grant was approved, he would prepare a letter of offer and letter of acceptance for his boss, Mr Thomas Lim Cher Leong, the director, to sign.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau was tipped off on Dec 28, 2012 that Lai had engaged in corrupt practices during his employment.

One of the people he tried to borrow money from had turned down his request for a $3,000 loan in October that year and complained to MDA in December.

In one of the cases, the court heard that Lai had failed to evaluate the application of Ms Catherine Khoo Poh Lin for a grant but lied to her that the $50,000 grant to her company, Experience & Experiments, had been approved.

It turned out that he had forged Mr Lim's signature on the letter of offer and passed the forged copy to Ms Khoo in 2012.

While waiting for the first payment for the purported grant, Ms Khoo was asked by Lai to lend him $6,000. He lied that he needed the money to pay for his uncle's surgery. She lent him $2,000 instead.

Lai, who has not repaid the loan, knew that she would feel obliged to lend him money, given his position in MDA. Eleven charges will be taken into consideration and 14 will be withdrawn when he is sentenced.

Lai, who could be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000 on each corruption charge, will return to court on July 7.

This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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