An assistant director at the Media Development Authority (MDA), who accepted loans from grant applicants and then used them to pay off gambling debts, was jailed for 14 months for corruption and forgery yesterday.
Lai Wai Khuen, 37, was responsible for administering grants for various MDA schemes and built up a professional relationship with applicants who depended on him for funding, a court heard.
He would ask them for loans as a personal favour, claiming he needed the money for spurious reasons such as paying for his uncle's surgery, when he had in fact run up huge gambling debts at casinos and on cruise ships.
Lai admitted to four charges of receiving loans of between $1,500 and $5,000 in return for facilitating MDA grants, and one each of forgery - for forging his boss's signature on a letter of offer - and corruptly trying to get a $3,000 loan.
He was cleared of 14 charges which were withdrawn and had 11 taken into consideration during sentencing.
Lai received $18,800 in loans but paid back only $800.
He was ordered to pay a penalty of $18,000 by the court.
Seeking a stiff sentence, Deputy Public Prosecutor Jiang Ke-Yue said the case raised strong public interest considerations as public servants are expected to act with absolute probity in administering public funds.
He said: "The accused fell far short of the high standards of integrity demanded of his office and instead flagrantly abused his position for personal gain.
Not only was he callously indifferent to his conflict of interest, he went further to forge official grant documents with the singular purpose of furthering his corrupt acts."
Citing aggravating factors, the DPP said Lai, who rose up the ranks in less than three years, had a key role in the process of approving and disbursing substantial MDA grants.
His position of trust and influence enabled him to solicit loans from 10 grant applicants on 14 occasions over two years.
"These were clearly deliberate and premeditated offences, carefully planned and expertly executed," he said.
Once a grant was approved, he continued liaising with the applicant until the project ended, and in the meantime, used this position of authority to ask for loans.
But his scam did not work with Dawn Ofedia managing director Dezmond Loh, who refused his requests for a loan and reported the matter to his superiors in 2012.
Lai was suspended by the MDA.
District Judge Soh Tze Bian said: "The grave public disquiet is exacerbated by the fact that this is a case of a public servant succumbing to gambling. Cases of this nature had promoted recent measures to tighten public service processes, including the implementation of a requirement for public servants to declare frequent casino visits."
Lai could have been jailed for up to five years and/or fined up to $100,000 for each charge of corruption.
The maximum penalty for forgery is four years' jail and a fine.
This article was first published on July 9, 2014.
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