SINGAPORE: A foreign journalist was on Tuesday (May 17) fined S$6,500 for doing freelance work without a valid work pass.
Calum Arthur Alistair Stuart, 36, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Another similar charge was considered for sentencing.
The two co-accused who engaged his services - Refinitiv Asia and media professional Muhammad Firdianshah Salimat - were also fined S$5,500 and S$4,000 respectively.
Stuart, a Briton, married a Singaporean in 2014 and was on a long-term visit pass when he offended in 2015 and 2016.
The Ministry of Manpower received information against Stuart for possible illegal employment in September 2019 and investigated.
Stuart admitted to doing freelance television and video production work for Refinitiv, then known as Thomson Reuters, while he did not hold a valid work pass.
He was paid about S$30,000 for work done over more than half a year from Nov 25, 2015 to Jul 8, 2016, except for a period of about three weeks in June 2016.
The court heard that Stuart was offered an assistant producer role with Refinitiv's news business in August 2015. He agreed to the offer but did not sign the employment contract.
The company subsequently applied for an employment pass on Stuart's behalf, but the application was rejected on Sep 9, 2015.
The company then applied for a letter of consent for Stuart to work for them on Nov 23, 2015. This was rejected on Dec 23 that year.
Around Nov 25, 2015, while waiting for approval of the letter of consent, Refinitiv offered freelance work to Stuart at a rate of S$4,500 a month.
Stuart accepted despite knowing that he was prohibited from engaging in any profession without a valid work pass, according to court documents.
The prosecution asked for a fine of S$7,000 to S$8,000, arguing that while Stuart did not take active steps to be illegally self-employed, he accepted the offer only two days after the company had applied for his letter of consent.
Stuart also made "significant" gains from his illegal employment, said Ministry of Manpower prosecuting officer Houston Johannus.
Stuart's defence lawyer Remy Choo said his client's main offence was in failing to check the status of his letter of consent, and disagreed that the amount he earned was relevant to sentencing.
On Refinitiv's part, the company admitted to being aware that Stuart did not hold a valid work pass when it made the freelance offer.
The company pleaded guilty to one charge of abetting Stuart to commit the offence of being a self-employed foreigner without a valid work pass.
ARTICLES ON YAHOO
Stuart's other co-accused Firdianshah, 30, is the founder of online publisher Popspoken, according to court documents. Popspoken said he had already left the company at the time of the offence.
He similarly pleaded guilty to one charge of abetting Stuart to commit the offence of being a self-employed foreigner without a valid work pass.
In May 2015, Firdianshah signed an agreement with Yahoo Asia Pacific to provide three to five original pieces of writing every weekday on news and current events.
Firdianshah would be paid S$150 for each piece published on the Yahoo! Singapore news website.
Around this time, Firdianshah became acquainted with Stuart through Stuart's wife, and offered him a job as a freelance writer.
Stuart expressed his interest in the job on Jun 6, 2015, and both men worked out an arrangement.
Although Stuart had highlighted the issue of seeking the necessary approval before starting work, Firdianshah still chose to engage him despite him not holding a valid work pass, according to court documents.
Both men signed an agreement on Jun 27, 2015 for Stuart to provide Firdianshah with three to five original pieces of writing every weekday.
Firdianshah would then submit these to Yahoo for consideration, and pay Stuart S$100 for every published piece after taking a S$50 cut. He would also be in charge of vetting Stuart's articles.
Between Jun 27, 2015 and late August 2015, Stuart wrote seven articles mostly about Singapore's current affairs that were published by Yahoo. He was paid S$700 in total, while Firdianshah received S$350.
Mr Johannus said Firdianshah "showed a cavalier attitude towards the law" in choosing to engage Stuart.
Firdianshah's defence lawyer Tiffanie Lim highlighted that her client was only 22 at the time and offended due to a lack of due diligence.
She said that Stuart's work pass was "simply not something in (Firdianshah's) headspace at the time".
The penalty for being a self-employed foreigner without a valid work pass, and abetting such an offence, is up to two years' jail, a fine of up to S$20,000 or both for a first-time offender.
This is increased to between one month and two years' jail and a fine of up to S$20,000 for repeat offenders.