Koh Seah Wee Sentenced to 22 Years for Singapore’s Public Sector Fraud

Koh Seah Wee was sentenced to 22 years in jail and Lim Chai Meng to 15 years for their roles in cheating Singapore government agencies of S$12.5 million ($10 million) in the city’s biggest public-sector fraud since 1995.

Koh, formerly a deputy director at the Singapore Land Authority, pleaded guilty to 55 charges including cheating and conversion of property from criminal proceeds at a hearing in Singapore on Oct. 28. Lim, who was his subordinate, pleaded guilty to 49 counts including money laundering.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang sentenced the men, who faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each cheating charge. Koh was accused of defrauding the land authority of S$12.2 million and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore of S$286,000, and was charged with 372 counts of cheating and corruption at the agencies. Lim was charged on 309 counts of defrauding the land authority.

Koh’s actions were a “wanton abuse of trust,” Prosecutor Aedit Abdullah said Oct. 28 in seeking a jail term of 20 to 24 years. The fraud, committed to support the men’s “hedonistic lifestyles,” has undermined and severely shaken public confidence in the internal controls at government agencies, Abdullah said.

The two men submitted false invoices through various shell companies set up by five accomplices for fictitious information technology services and goods at the land agency, according to court papers, and Koh’s crimes lasted more than a decade.

Lamborghini, Ferrari

They allegedly used the money to buy apartments and cars including a S$1.6 million Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV and a Ferrari F430. Buying the limited-edition Lamborghini was a “rather egoistic act,” Judge Tay said today.

Ravinderpal Singh, Koh’s lawyer, had urged the court to consider his voluntary surrender and cooperation as mitigating factors. About S$8.2 million in assets have been seized from Koh, who graduated from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology with a first class honors degree in electrical engineering, Singh said.

“He had the potential to make a great success of his life and it has now all come to nothing,” he said.

Koh was also accused of cheating the Singapore Supreme Court of an undisclosed amount.

Prosecutors had sought imprisonment of 16 to 20 years for Lim, while his lawyers, Subhas Anandan and Sunil Sudheesan, asked Justice Tay to consider a jail term of 10 to 12 years.

Lim is “extremely remorseful” over his role in “what started as an initial plan to cheat a bit of money and spiraled out of control,” Anandan said.

Sentencing him today, Judge Tay said that Koh needed Lim and the “duet of deception could not have been performed with such virtuosity unless they were both in harmony.”

Ho Yen Teck, an accomplice in defrauding the land authority, was sentenced on Jan. 14 to 10 years in jail.

Least Corrupt

Singapore, rated the least corrupt nation in the world together with Denmark and New Zealand by Transparency International, reviewed its public sector’s financial procedures after the fraud was revealed in September 2010.

The fraud led the law ministry, which oversees both the intellectual property office and land authority, and the Supreme Court to set up independent review panels.

In 1995, Choy Hon Tim, a deputy chief executive at the Public Utilities Board, was jailed for 14 years for taking S$13.9 million in kickbacks in Singapore’s largest public sector graft case. Choy was released in 2005 for good behavior.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ann Koh in Singapore at akoh15@bloomberg.net; Andrea Tan in Singapore at atan17@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Douglas Wong at dwong19@bloomberg.net

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