SINGAPORE: A director and a project manager at an engineering and construction firm pleaded guilty on Friday (May 7) to giving S$50,000 in bribes to a deputy group director with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) who oversaw a project they were hired for.
Kim Young-Gyu, a 52-year-old director of Daewoo Engineering and Construction, and Ro Sungyoung, a 49-year-old project manager of the same firm, pleaded guilty to a charge each of conspiring to bribe the LTA's Henry Foo Yung Thye with S$30,000. Each man will have a second charge involving another S$20,000 taken into consideration for sentencing.
They are the first to plead guilty in a wide-ranging corruption case where Foo, who was the deputy group director of the Thomson-East Coast and Cross-Island Lines, is accused of taking about S$1.24 million in bribes.
READ: Former LTA deputy group director charged with taking S$1.24 million in bribes, cheating colleagues
The court heard that the LTA awarded the main contract for the construction of the Stevens MRT Station to Daewoo in April 2014 for S$441 million. This was the first time Daewoo was awarded a project in Singapore, and both Kim and Ro worked on it, reporting to Foo for official quarterly meetings with the LTA.
Foo was not only in charge of the Stevens MRT Station construction, but also as a member of the tender steering committee and chairman of the tender evaluation committee for the project. He was also the engineer of the project and had powers to commit the LTA to additional expenditures.
In 2015, after the LTA awarded the tender to Daewoo, Kim and Ro began communicating frequently with Foo. At the outset, Ro thought Foo was "difficult to talk to" and demanding towards Daewoo as the main contractor.
In June or July 2018, Foo contacted Ro and told him he had financial problems, asking for a loan. Afraid to offend Foo, a high-ranking LTA officer, Ro said he would discuss the matter with Kim, his boss.
When Kim heard about it, he said he rejected the notion angrily, as he knew Daewoo had strong compliance policies prohibiting monetary payments to clients. He also knew such payments would be against Singapore law and claims that he was "shocked" that a Singapore-based client such as Foo would ask for money from his contractor.
However, Foo kept repeating the request to Ro. The court heard that Kim instructed Ro to reject Foo by claiming that Daewoo had financial difficulties, but Foo was undeterred.
THEY SUCCUMB TO HIS REQUEST FOR A BRIBE
Subsequently, Kim and Ro decided they could no longer reject Foo in view of his position at the LTA and in the project. By agreeing to his request for a loan, they hoped it would put them on friendly terms with Foo and facilitate the smooth progress of works on the train station.
Kim said he feared that if they offended Foo, he would "apply time-pressure" on Daewoo for the project and influence the LTA's inspections of their work, leading to the firm having to redo some works.
Ro also thought a favourable relationship with Foo was important, as he said Foo had been demanding on Daewoo in their compliance with safety and environmental regulations.
The court also heard that the pair had hoped that the loan would stand them in good stead to be awarded future projects from the LTA, especially in comparison with other contractors who had not given money to Foo.
Kim told Ro he would leave it to him to decide how much to give and how to raise the money, promising him that he would be offered the role of project director with a S$5,000 increase in gross monthly pay from his current salary of S$15,000. They said they were both unsure if Foo would repay Ro.
On Dec 31, 2018, Foo texted Ro and said he needed to urgently raise a sum of money for family issues. After speaking to Kim and with his agreement, Ro lent Foo S$30,000.
In response, Foo sent a text message saying: "Many thanks to you and Kim. ... Really appreciative again, Ro."
Foo mentioned he would return the money, but did not give a specific date and never repaid it.
RO AND KIM TRY TO ASK FOR FAVOURS
On May 3, 2019, Ro contacted Foo, asking for the latter's help to cover up certain infringements of safety or cleanliness at the train station work site. An LTA officer had inspected it and given Daewoo a negative score.
Ro wanted to get Foo's help as he was concerned that the matter would negatively impact Daewoo's ongoing tender bid for a project on the Jurong Region Line.
Instead of rejecting Ro, Foo said he would help him by speaking to the LTA's group director of safety and contracts, feeling indebted to Ro and Kim for the money they lent him.
However, his intervention did not change the negative score, and Daewoo was not eventually awarded the Jurong Region Line project.
Around August 2019, Kim asked Ro to find out from Foo why Daewoo had failed in the first stage of the LTA tendering process for the construction of tunnels at Changi Airport, so that Kim could report back to Daewoo's South Korean headquarters about its failure.
Ro sent Foo a WhatsApp message asking for the explanation. Foo sent him a screenshot of the LTA tender evaluation committee's assessment, and the reason for Daewoo failing. He told Ro not to forward the image to anybody as it was confidential.
When the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau caught wind of the corruption and first interviewed Ro, he was not forthcoming about the amount of bribes given. At first, he claimed it was from a subcontractor of Daewoo, KGM Brothers Contractors.
But the latter denied it and their accounts were clean. Ro later admitted that he had paid the bribe to Foo using his personal rental income from a piece of property in Seoul. Neither Kim nor Ro reported the incident to Daewoo's headquarters.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Victoria Ting and Kelvin Chong asked for eight months' jail for both Kim and Ro, saying they had "disregarded and seriously undermined the integrity of a contract relating to a public body".
The bribe was substantial, and Foo was a senior officer within the LTA, they said. The two men were motivated by gaining unfair advantages for their company in at least two ways: To be treated favourably during the LTA inspections, and to be favoured for future contracts.
Kim and Ro will return for sentencing later this month, while Foo is set for a pre-trial conference in June. He faces 36 charges that range from taking bribes from contractors or subcontractors to cheating his colleagues into giving him loans between 2008 and 2019.
The cases for several other co-accused are pending.