NParks bikes: Prosecution must reframe law question

The Brompton bicycles saga, which led to a $5,000 fine for a former National Parks Board (NParks) assistant director, who lied to auditors about his relationship with a bike supplier, was brought before Singapore's highest court yesterday.

The prosecution took the case of Bernard Lim Yong Soon to the Court of Appeal, asking it to decide when people should be jailed for lying to public servants in order to mislead an inquiry into a matter concerning public- sector governance.

The prosecution is contending that a prison term should be imposed when the offence is a "calculated, deliberate act, committed with planning and forethought".

But the three-judge court questioned if it was wise to make a blanket ruling to jail people for wrongdoings that can cover a wide gamut of potential scenarios, such as lying to a superior about taking excess stationery.

It wondered what exactly was meant by "public-sector governance" and also noted that "inquiry" could cover situations ranging from a passing question to a subordinate, to a formally appointed committee of inquiry.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang declined to give a ruling based on the present question of law submitted by the prosecution. However, they gave the prosecution two weeks to re-submit a "more appropriately framed" question and will then decide whether to consider it.

Mr Lim, the man at the centre of the case, addressed the court briefly, saying that what has happened in the last 21/2 years was sufficient punishment.

Mr Lim added that he was "still not gainfully employed".

In 2011, he tipped off the boss of bicycle retailer Bikehop on an upcoming NParks tender for foldable bikes.

Bikehop, the sole bidder, won the tender to sell 26 Brompton bikes to NParks. In 2012, the deal came under public scrutiny over the $2,200 price of each bicycle.

Quizzed by Ministry of National Development auditors about his relationship with the Bikehop boss, Mr Lim lied that they met for the first time only after the tender was awarded.

Last June, Mr Lim was fined $5,000 by a district court for giving false information to a public servant. This was upheld by the High Court, dismissing the prosecution's appeal for jail.

The prosecution then referred the case to the apex court on the basis that a question of law of public interest has arisen.

Yesterday, the court raised its own questions, including whether this was an appropriate case to invoke the apex court's power to set a sentencing benchmark.

This article was first published on Feb 13, 2015.
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