Apex court overturns acquittal of ex-manager

Mr Leng Kah Poh, former food and beverage manager for Ikano.

One of the largest cases of private-sector corruption here took another twist yesterday, with the Court of Appeal overturning the acquittal of a former Ikea food services manager.

That means Leng Kah Poh now has to serve his original sentence of nearly two years' jail, and pay a $2.3 million penalty, the amount he pocketed from the racket.

With two accomplices, he had skimmed millions of dollars off inflated contracts to supply food to furniture giant Ikea between 2003 and 2009.

In February last year, the 53-year-old was convicted of corruption. But seven months later, after his appeal, Leng was cleared by a High Court judge who ruled that he was not guilty of corruption.

That was because he was one of the masterminds of the racket, rather than someone who was induced by a third party to act dishonestly against his employer.

But last month,a three-judge Court of Appeal decided the High Court's interpretation of corruption was wrong. Instead, it decided that a corrupt transaction did not necessarily have to be initiated by a third party.

"This has always been the law until the judge took a different view. We are just restoring what it always has been," Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said yesterday, when the apex court restored the sentence of Leng's 98-week jail term and $2.3 million penalty.

In 2002, Leng and two others - Gary Lim Kim Seng and Andrew Tee Fook Boon - hatched a plan to rip off Ikea.

Using two companies - AT35 and Food Royale Trading - they bought food products from a supplier and resold them to Ikea at marked-up prices.

Over a period of seven years, the two companies made a profit of $6.9 million, which was split three ways.

Leng's role was to favour the two companies in placing orders for food supplies.

Tee was jailed 40 weeks while Lim was jailed 70 weeks.

Leng appealed and succeeded.

Justice Choo Han Teck accepted Leng's role in the food supply scam, but said it did not amount to corruption. He said that for someone to be guilty of corruption, he must have been induced by a third party.

But the prosecution asked the Court of Appeal to rule on whether someone who came up with the idea of receiving a bribe can be considered to have been "induced".

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that "inducement" in the Prevention of Corruption Act does not mean an act of persuasion by a third party, but instead refers to the promise or receipt of a bribe.

The High Court's interpretation, he said, would lead to "absurd outcomes" in which a person who asks for a bribe would not be considered corrupt as he had not been influenced by a third party.


This article was first published on November 21, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.