Ex-NLB manager gets jail for taking S$581,700 in bribes, among highest sums in public sector corruption

Ex-NLB manager gets jail for taking S$581,700 in bribes, among highest sums in public sector corruption

NLB Ivan Koh Siong Wee and Low Pok Woen
Low Pok Woen (left) and Ivan Koh Siong Wee leaving the State Courts on Aug 4, 2020. (Photo: TODAY/Ili Nadhirah Mansor)

SINGAPORE: A former manager at the National Library Board (NLB) was sentenced to jail and a monetary penalty on Thursday (Apr 29) for taking about S$581,700 in bribes over four years from a former employee of his who supplied resources to the statutory board.

The amount is one of the highest involved in a public sector corruption case, the prosecutors said.

Ivan Koh Siong Wee, 51, was given four years and four months' jail and a penalty of S$229,000. His co-accused Low Pok Woen, 52, was given four years' jail.

They each pleaded guilty to 20 charges of corruption, with another 36 charges taken into consideration for each of them.

Koh, who resigned from NLB in 2014, joined the company in 2003 and later became a manager in NLB's Digital Resources Services Department, overseeing budget, human resources and administrative matters.

He was also in charge of vetting and shortlisting digital resources from vendors and forwarding approval papers to his director for approval.

After learning about NLB's move towards digitalisation in 2004, Koh told Low, who was previously his employee at hairdressing company Speedcuts, about a business opportunity.

Under his advice, Low set up three companies providing digital content. NLB became his biggest customer, procuring about S$7 million of digital resources from his three firms between November 2005 and November 2009.

In return, Low set aside about 30 per cent of all the profits from his firms with NLB to be given to Koh as bribes. Koh used the money on Speedcuts, his sister's company expenses as well as on his personal needs.

Koh helped Low in several ways, including giving him confidential information on digital resources that NLB was interested in and advising him on how such resources were assessed for procurement or renewal. Koh also told Low what prices to quote and how to sign off with different names.

Low recorded details of the bribes he gave in spreadsheets. NLB discovered fraud and falsification of documents in Low's supply of digital content in 2014 and lodged a police report, which led to investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department and Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

"HIGHLY CORRUPT SCHEME": PROSECUTION

The prosecution had sought 60 months' jail each for the two men, along with a penalty of S$229,000 for Koh and a fine of S$300,000 for Low.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Suhas Malhotra, Magdalene Huang and Andre Ong said both men profited financially from the "highly corrupt scheme".

"For around four years, Koh abused the managerial position that he held at the NLB. A position through which Koh could make recommendations about and influence the way in which NLB spent money to procure digital content for use by the Singaporean community," they said.

"Koh suborned the interests of the public body he was employed by, in order to advance the private business interests of Low, as well as his own financial interests."

In a previous statement to CNA, NLB said it "regularly refines and streamlines" its direct contracting process. 

NLB also enforces direct verification of sole distributorships and rigorously monitors the evaluation process for subscription renewals, said the spokesperson. 

"NLB takes a serious view of any corrupt act and does not condone any misconduct by our officers. Officers who break the law will be prosecuted, and have to face the full extent of the law," the spokesperson added.

Source: CNA/ll(ac)

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