The office at a shopping centre in the Rochor area was nondescript and looked like any other small office, with a few desks, computers and a photocopying machine.
But this room was at the heart of a syndicate that helped bring in some 300 foreign workers working illegally in construction companies across the island.
The suspected mastermind was nabbed on Tuesday, along with 17 people suspected to be involved in his syndicate, in a two-day operation conducted by enforcement officers from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Some 60 officers were involved.
The syndicate specialised in bringing in Chinese construction workers for companies which needed extra manpower. Shell companies were set up so directors could submit work pass applications. But when the workers came to Singapore, they were employed at other companies, which is illegal.
MOM's Foreign Manpower Management Division (FMMD) has been tracking this syndicate since August. This syndicate is the fourth dismantled in the past year. Investigations against all four are ongoing.
FMMD divisional director Kevin Teoh said in a statement: "MOM takes such illegal exploitation seriously... The ministry will continue to step up enforcement efforts to protect bona fide employers and workers."
The latest crackdown began on Monday, when a middle-aged man suspected to be a director of a shell company was nabbed in the Rochor area. The next day, three other suspected directors - an elderly woman, a middle-aged man and an older man - were arrested separately in Toa Payoh, Marsiling and Bukit Batok.
The suspected mastermind was arrested in his office in Rochor, along with a man and woman who are believed to be involved in earlier cases.
Under the amended Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the mastermind, if convicted, could be jailed from six months to two years and fined up to $6,000, for each charge. He could also be caned if convicted of at least six similar offences at the same trial. Runners face similar penalties.
The directors of shell companies could be fined up to $20,000, jailed for up to two years, or both.
The ministry said such syndicates exploit foreign workers, take away employment opportunities from locals, and take up MOM resources to assist stranded workers.
Migrant Workers' Centre chairman Yeo Guat Kwang said the group was encouraged by MOM's enforcement actions and urged the ministry to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the offenders where necessary. "We call upon all sectors of our community to join hands to... send out a clear message that such injustices are not only illegal, but socially unacceptable," he said.
This article was first published on Nov 27, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.