SINGAPORE: The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) said it cannot comment or provide updates on its multi-year-long probe into a corruption scandal involving Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M).
This is because it needs to “protect the integrity” of these confidential investigations and to “avoid prejudicing any prosecutorial decision that might follow”, it said on Tuesday (Jan 26) in response to a letter published a week ago in TODAY’s Voices section.
The Jan 20 letter written by Mr Sattar Bawany, who heads a research and executive development firm, had asked for the Government to provide updates on the status of investigations into the bribery case involving Singapore’s largest oil rig builder, noting that it had been three years since the scandal came to light.
In end-December 2017, Keppel O&M, the offshore and marine arm of Keppel Corp, was fined a hefty sum of US$422 million for its part in an international corruption scandal that took place between 2001 and 2014, with bribes amounting up to US$55 million.
The penalty came after a global resolution with criminal authorities in three jurisdictions, namely the United States, Brazil and Singapore.
Back home, Keppel O&M was served a conditional warning by the CPIB, which it accepted. Local authorities also said in a statement dated Dec 23, 2017 that investigations into individuals involved are ongoing.
In his letter, Mr Bawany noted the lack of updates since the warning was served, saying: “The question that I have been asked frequently is whether there will eventually be any enforcement action against the individuals involved.
“Regrettably, this case has tarnished Singapore's hard-earned reputation for low corruption, as well as its ranking in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which was painstakingly developed by founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and his pioneer leadership team.”
In response, CPIB said: “We understand the writer’s concerns on the progress of the Keppel O&M case.
“However, we cannot comment or provide status updates on ongoing cases so as to protect the integrity of investigations, which are confidential in nature and to avoid prejudicing any prosecutorial decision that might follow.”
The CPIB “remains resolute and committed to combat corruption” and it will not hesitate to take offenders to task, wrote the agency’s assistant director for corporate relations Shawn Chew.
CONSIDER TOUGHER ANTI-GRAFT LAWS
Mr Bawany had also asked for tougher penalties to be considered as the case has highlighted the need for stronger anti-bribery laws to better deter graft offences overseas.
He said the monetary penalty for each charge under Singapore’s Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), which was enacted in 1960, is “too low” given how bribe payments today can easily amount to millions of dollars.
The scope of the law should also be widened so that those higher up in the corporate hierarchy and those lower down in the organisation, as well as their officially appointed agents, are held more accountable, wrote Mr Bawany.
CPIB said in its response that there are “stiff punishments and heavy penalties” for corruption under the PCA.
Those convicted of a corruption offence can be fined up to S$100,000, sentenced to imprisonment of up to five years or both.
The maximum imprisonment term for each offence of corruption can be increased to seven years if it is in relation to a matter or contract with the Government or public body.
Section 13 of the PCA also provides for additional penalties on top of the fine, where the court can order those convicted of graft to pay a penalty equal to the amount of gratification.
“This significantly enhances the total financial penalties for corrupt offenders,” CPIB said, noting that this was applied to a recent overseas bribery case where the receiver of bribes was convicted, given a custodial sentence and a penalty of more than S$2.3 million.
The corruption situation in Singapore is “firmly under control”, the agency also said in its reply, adding that the number of corruption-related reports it receives has been on a downward trend for the last five years.
Singapore is “well-regarded by the international community for its incorruptibility and clean public service”, CPIB noted, referring to a “consistent ranking in the last decade as one of the world’s top 10 least corrupt nations by Transparency International”.
Singapore was placed fourth out of 180 countries, with a score of 85, in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index ranking by Transparency International.
MORE ABOUT THE KEPPEL O&M BRIBERY CASE
In a shocking disclosure, Keppel O&M said on Dec 23, 2017 that it would pay a hefty penalty of US$422 million as part of a global resolution with authorities in three countries to resolve bribery charges.
The settlement, reached with criminal authorities in the United States, Brazil and Singapore, was unprecedented for a local company.
The corrupt payments of US$55 million made between 2001 and 2014 also surpassed the bribes unearthed in a corruption bust at shipbuilder Singapore Technologies Marine in 2014.
According to court documents released by the US Justice Department, Keppel O&M had “knowingly and wilfully conspired” to pay bribes as part of a “decade-long scheme” to Brazilian officials and politicians in exchange for business deals.
The illicit payments helped Keppel O&M to secure 13 contracts from Brazilian oil firms Petrobas and Sete Brasil. These two Brazilian oil companies had been embroiled in a sprawling graft probe dubbed “Operation Car Wash” carried out by the country’s federal police since 2014.
The bribes were disguised as large commissions to a consultant in Brazil, who in turn made payments to people who had influence over the deal-making.
From the 13 contracts that it secured through the 13-year-long bribery scheme, Keppel O&M and its related entities earned US$351.8 million, according to US court documents.
News about the global resolution triggered some sharp movements in the shares of its parent company, Keppel, back then, while raising questions about the firm's corporate governance.
Some concerns were also raised on what was perceived to be lenient treatment given to Keppel O&M.
When the matter was raised in Parliament on Jan 8, 2018, Ms Indranee Rajah, then-Senior Minister of State for Finance and Law, said Keppel O&M did not get off lightly.
Referring to the hefty penalties levied on the company, she had said: “So far as the company is concerned, make no mistake - there has been a heavy price to pay and deservedly so.
“With respect to the individuals, investigations are still ongoing. That outcome has not been determined. Nobody has got off or not got off. That is something the public prosecutor has to decide," she said at the time.