Court mulls over legal points in 2 graft acquittals

SINGAPORE - Prosecutors yesterday took two unrelated cases of private sector corruption – in which the convictions were overturned on appeal – to the highest court in Singapore, arguing that the decisions were wrong in law.

The men in the cases – former Ikea food and beverage manager Leng Kah Poh and former Seagate senior director of logistics Henry Teo Chu Ha – were acquitted by Justice Choo Han Teck.

The High Court judge ruled in separate judgments on Sept 18 last year that their actions did not amount to corruption.

But the prosecution disagrees with his interpretation of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which will affect future bribery cases as his decisions are binding on judges in the State Courts.

Prosecutors referred the two cases to the Court of Appeal, asking it to determine legal questions of public interest. If the apex court agrees with the prosecution, it could lead to the acquittals being overturned. The three-judge court, comprising Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Tay Yong Kwang, will issue written decisions at a later date.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Ken Hwee, who argued in the case of Mr Leng, said that Justice Choo’s “judicial pronouncements, if uncorrected, undermine and set back Singapore’s anti-corruption efforts immeasurably”.

Mr Leng, 52, had pocketed $2.3 million in a plot with two others to skim money off inflated food contracts with Ikea. Justice Choo quashed his conviction, saying Mr Leng was not guilty of corruption because he was one of the masterminds behind the idea to rip off the furniture giant.

The judge said that to establish a charge of corruption, Mr Leng had to have been induced by a third party to act against the interests of his employer.

DPP Tan argued that by this reasoning, a person who seeks out gratification, such as a traffic cop asking for a bribe to overlook an offence, will never be guilty of corruption – which cannot be.

In Mr Teo’s case, he was cleared of receiving a reward for helping trucking company Biforst secure contracts with Seagate.

He was given 20,000 shares in Biforst in 2004 and 11 payouts amounting to $576,225 between 2006 and 2010. Justice Choo said these could not be said to be rewards as Mr Teo had paid $6,000 for the shares and the prosecution did not prove the transaction was a sham.

DPP David Chew said this approach was contrary to legal precedent. He argued that the fact that Mr Teo paid a sum of money did not mean there was no corrupt intent.

The men’s lawyers, Mr S.K. Kumar and Mr Bachoo Mohan Singh, argued that the questions raised by the prosecution were not questions of law of public interest and the court need not answer them.

This article was published on May 5 in The Straits Times.

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