A 50-year flashback: Scandal rocks nation

The unravelling of T. T. Durai, former chief executive officer of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) began in July, after he sued Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) for defamation.

This was after a Straits Times article accused an NKF under Mr Durai's chargeof a lack of transparency and accountability in the foundation's usage and acquisition of funds.

NKF, founded in 1969, is a charitable organisation to help needy Singaporeans cope with fees of kidney dialysis. It was and still is largely funded by public donations. Mr Durai was its CEO since 1992.

In April 2004, a Straits Times article titled "The NKF: Controversially ahead of its time?" contained among other allegations, information that a gold-plated tap, a glass-panelled shower and an expensive toilet bowl had been installed in Mr Durai's office bathroom.

Mr Durai sued both SPH and writer Susan Long for defamation, claiming damages of $3.24 million.

During the trial, it emerged that Mr Durai earned a salary of $25,000 a month, with annual bonuses amounting to $1.8 million, and that funds were used to maintain his personal car, first class air travels and a fleet of eight chauffeured cars.

Other misconducts included under-declaring the money NKF had and exaggerating the number of patients under its care to encourage the public to donate more generously.

Mr Durai dropped the suit on the second day.

The disclosure in court resulted in a massive public backlash with some 6,800 of the NKF's regular donors cancelling their donations.

After audit, tax and advisory firm KPMG released a 442-page report providing in-depth coverage of how Mr Durai had abused his authority, the Commercial Affairs Department and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau launched investigations into the NKF's malpractices.

Mr Durai was charged and convicted in court and sentenced to three months' jail. He was released on Aug 11, 2008.

The scandal resulted in a number of measures instituted to provide checks and balances in the charity sector. One of the key measures instituted was the setting up of the Inter-Ministry Committee on the Regulation of Charities and Institutions of Public Character.

This article was first published on August 9, 2015.
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