Ex-MFA protocol chief Lim Cheng Hoe sentenced to 15 months' jail for cheating

Prosecution had sought an 18-month jail term, but Lim's lawyer Philip Fong had argued that a prison term of between eight and 10 months and a fine was enough. Not only did Lim fully pay back the money, he also did not benefited personally. Lim made the false claims only to cut through bureaucratic red tape, Mr Fong had said in mitigation earlier.

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Ex-protocol chief pleads guilty to 10 fraud charges

SINGAPORE - The former Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) protocol chief at the heart of the pineapple-tart cheating scandal pleaded guilty to 10 charges of fraud on Monday.

Lim Cheng Hoe, a 61-year-old public service veteran, faces 60 charges for pilfering from the Government a total of $88,997 of taxpayers' money. He has returned the full sum.

The other 50 counts will be considered during his sentencing, which District Judge Eddy Tham is expected to deliver on Thursday afternoon.

As protocol chief, Lim was responsible for organising official overseas visits by local delegations, and coordinating incoming visits to Singapore.

From February 2008 to May 2012, he submitted 60 claims for 10,075 boxes of pineapple tarts - popular as gifts for foreign delegates - when only 2,226 were used.

The court heard how in 2007 Lim became a regular at a pastry shop, which issued receipts on pieces of paper torn from disused books.

As they grew more familiar with each other, Lim asked for blank receipts.

Lim then asked a friend to fill up the receipts, saying the shopkeepers could not do so as they could not write in English.

Lim stamped them as "paid" himself. Some of the 60 false claims made also involved claims for wine, made through genuine receipts. He had bought 248 bottles of wines, but only 89 were used.

Defence counsel Philip Fong said yesterday that Lim was "misguided but well-intentioned" in his conduct and only wished to "overcome bureaucratic red tape".

The court heard that MFA allowed reimbursements only for gifts on official overseas trips, but did not authorise gifts for functions organised by foreign diplomats based in Singapore.

Mr Fong said the excess money claimed was used to purchase other gifts for upcoming functions with foreign officials: "He was not self-aggrandising, or a consumer of pineapple tarts and wine himself. As a diabetic, he cannot drink wine or take too much sugar."

In a thinly veiled reference to Liew Chee Meng, the former Home Affairs Ministry officer who was in 2012 jailed eight years and eight months for cheating the Government of $617,000, Mr Fong said: "This is a far cry from the kind of situations where the offender actually spends the money buying Hermes and Gucci bags."

This article by The Straits Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.