Bloomberg News

Two Convicted in Singapore’s Biggest Public Fraud Since 1995

October 28, 2011

(Updates with conviction in headline, first paragraph.)

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Koh Seah Wee and Lim Chai Meng were convicted 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, 41, 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 today. Lim, 38, who was his subordinate, pleaded guilty to 49 counts including money laundering.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang said the men, who face a maximum of 10 years in jail for each cheating charge, will be sentenced Nov. 4. Koh is 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 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 limited-edition Lamborghini Murcielago LP670-4 SV and a Ferrari F430.

Ravinderpal Singh, Koh’s lawyer, 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 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,” Singh said.

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

Prosecutors are seeking 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 spiralled out of control,” Anandan said.

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.

The case is Public Prosecutor v Koh Seah Wee and Lim Chai Meng CC36/2011 in the Singapore High Court.

--Editors: Lena Lee, Douglas Wong

To contact the reporter on this story: 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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