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Inadequate information, inadequate understanding

This week: A commentary asking the questions lots of Singaporeans have about the decision not to prosecute former senior management of KOM for their roles in a ginormous bribery scandal vanishes off the Singapore Law Watch website.

I’m going to Stray Kids’s concert tomorrow! I’m suuuuuper excited. Anyone else on this list going?

Stern warnings only ah?

Thank goodness I saved a PDF version of the piece to read later, because senior counsel Harpreet Singh Nehal’s commentary for Singapore Law Watch on the Keppel bribery scandal is no longer available on their website. 😐 The decision by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to issue stern warnings to the six former Keppel Offshore & Marine Ltd (KOM) staff for their involvement in a massive US$55 million bribery scandal caused lots of raised eyebrows. “In the absence of compelling further information from the authorities, the decision is discomforting,” Singh wrote.

KOM had already admitted to paying bribes in Brazil to secure thirteen projects in a statement of facts it signed in with the US Department of Justice in 2017, and paid US$422 million in fines. But the CPIB carried out its own investigation and decided not to prosecute, because:

“This case is complex and transnational, involving multiple authorities and witnesses from several countries. There are evidential difficulties in cases of such nature. Many of the documents are located in different jurisdictions. In addition, key witnesses are located outside of Singapore and cannot be compelled to give evidence here. The decision whether to prosecute the six individuals for criminal offences has to take into consideration all relevant factors, such as the culpability of each individual, the available evidence and what is appropriate in the circumstances. Having taken these into consideration, stern warnings were issued to the six individuals.”

In his commentary, Singh pointed out that just because a case is “complex and transnational” doesn’t automatically mean that the choice not to prosecute makes sense. Furthermore, there’s already a lot of evidence, given that there’s already a statement of facts. The CPIB also has broad investigative powers and advanced digital forensic tools at its disposal, as well as processes to seek cooperation from foreign counterparts if some of the necessary evidence is outside of the country. So it’s really not clear, based on what has been said publicly about the matter so far, why the CPIB decided that prosecution isn’t an option. What exactly are the authorities missing that would make them come to the conclusion that they cannot secure a conviction?

Singh wrote:

“While the Attorney-General is not ordinarily required to explain his prosecutorial decisions, given the stakes involved here, it will be highly desirable that he does so in this case. The CPIB statement shows the authorities have already considered that their non-prosecution decision warrants an explanation, albeit the statement given so far raises more questions than it answers. It is in the national interest that a full justification, with sufficient detail on the questions posed, is given for the decision not to prosecute in this case. Broad, general responses of the type in the CPIB press release are wholly inadequate.”

Without naming names, Indranee Rajah (a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office) posted on Facebook that “some people have made assertions” that were “based on an inadequate understanding of the facts and of the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) between KOM and the United States Department of Justice and the United States Attorney’s Office”. She said that while Singapore does not tolerate corruption, “criminal proceedings cannot be initiated based on sentiment”. She promised to explain the facts in Parliament on Monday.

It’s not clear to me why Singh’s commentary disappeared from Singapore Law Watch, nor why the Singapore Academy of Law (which manages the site) told CNA that it was “not within the editorial parameters of Singapore Law Watch”. If it isn’t within the editorial parameters of the site, why and how did it get accepted for publication in the first place? Unless Harpreet Singh somehow has access to the website and uploaded it himself — and I highly doubt Singapore Law Watch would allow itself to be used as a personal blog of lawyers, even if they are senior counsels — surely someone made the decision that it could be published?

We will have to wait for Monday to see what the explanation is and whether it answers the questions that Singh and many Singaporeans have been asking. But all this — the surprising non-prosecution, the removal of a commentary asking very common sense questions — doesn’t build public trust. It’s more likely to make people feel like the powerful are closing ranks, and that Singaporeans will once again not get the answers that we deserve.

Using the Internal Security Act

Thursday was the 60th anniversary of Operation Coldstore. Instead of reflecting on the use of detention without trial to arrest the PAP’s political opponents, we instead saw news reports this past week about the use of the Internal Security Act to detain young people, and concerns about self-radicalisation. Such narratives unsurprisingly make people feel like the Internal Security Act is necessary, and certainly no one is saying that we shouldn’t care about national security, but the fact remains that the ISA grants the government a lot of power without adequate independent oversight. That there are genuine national security threats out there to deal with doesn’t erase this problem. While reading all these articles about allegedly self-radicalised people, we must keep in mind that this is the government's narrative, and there is no way to independently verify it.

While we're on the topic, there'll be a commemoration event of Operation Coldstore on 18 February: register for it here!

Tin Pei Ling’s multiple hats

PAP MP Tin Pei Ling has got a new job as Director of Public Affairs and Policy at Grab Singapore. She’ll be working this job while continuing to be a sitting MP, since being an MP is a part-time job in Singapore. The immediate obvious question that lots of people asked was: isn’t it a conflict interest for a sitting ruling party MP to be the head of a department that’s in charge of public policy? But according to Tin, this isn’t a problem: “There is a clear and mutual understanding that my role as a Parliamentarian is distinct from my role at Grab.”

She also said:

”I am absolutely clear that when I am discharging my duties in my capacity as a Member of Parliament, my constituents and Singapore come first. When I am working on behalf of Grab, I will have to ensure that Grab's interests are safeguarded.”

I’m not sure it’s as simple as she makes it out to be. What if there are issues with Grab that affect her constituents? What if Grab wants/needs to deal with the government on some matter? What does it mean that Tin wears two hats as their head of public policy and someone who is elected official from the party that’s in government? It’s an insult to our intelligence to pretend that there's nothing to see here.

Mynah Magazine is back! The indie magazine is crowdfunding for their fourth issue — please support them! The money goes towards paying contributors, printing the magazine (which has become super expensive), and shipping and handling.

Got some more…

🏙️ Sengkang Town Council, under the Workers’ Party, will now directly manage the town, because it failed to receive any bids for its tender for a managing agent. Hmm, no managing agents want to work with/for an opposition party? WHY AH WHY

🗳️ Apart from questions about Keppel and SPH Media, we can also look forward to the introduction of a bills proposing amendments to the presidential elections. 👀 The elections have to take place this year by mid-September.

Thank you for reading this week! As always, please help me spread the word about this newsletter by sharing it widely. Did I mention I’m going to the Stray Kids concert tomorrow? eeeeeeeeee