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Gourmet food distribution company director convicted of bribing head chef of Omakase Burger

Gourmet food distribution company director convicted of bribing head chef of Omakase Burger

File photo of the outlet at Wisma Atria. (Photo: Facebook/Omakase Burger)

SINGAPORE: The director of a gourmet food distribution company has been convicted of bribing the head chef of Omakase Burger, an American-style gourmet burger chain, multiple times over two years.

Orchard Hills director Edmund Chan Yong Ann, 45, was on Friday (Oct 22) convicted of 30 counts of corruptly giving gratification to Hoe Kim Tick, to advance Chan's business interests with Omakase Burger.

In 2013, Chan founded Orchard Hills, a food distribution company that imported and supplied gourmet food items to restaurants, including truffle oil.

He became acquainted with Hoe in late 2014, when Hoe was the head chef of Omakase Burger and in charge of managing kitchen inventory and ordering supplies.

According to the prosecution, Chan had discussions with Hoe about the type, price and quantity of truffle oil used by Omakase.

When he learned that Omakase used significant quantities of truffle oil to prepare its food, Chan endeavoured to become Omakase's truffle oil supplier, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Stephanie Chew.

This was an appealing prospect for Orchard Hills, which was a small company at the time with truffle oil being the most profitable item in its inventory, Chan said at trial.

Hoe conducted a taste test for his employer using Chan's truffle oil, and Orchard Hills became Omakase's truffle oil supplier.

From February 2015, Chan began paying Hoe S$300 in cash every month. In total, he made 24 such payments to Hoe, handing over the cash either at the smoking area at Turf City or Wisma Atria.

Between February 2015 and February 2017, Chan also gave Hoe two red packets, a bottle of Martell Cognac, a Masamoto knife worth S$150, a Louis Vuitton belt worth S$300 to S$400, and a Bottega Veneta wallet worth S$300.

The prosecutor's case was that Chan initially offered to pay Hoe 5 per cent of each truffle oil order Omakase placed with Orchard Hills. However, he later altered this arrangement and offered Hoe S$300 per month.

Hoe had pleaded guilty to his role in the corruption, and was called as a prosecution witness. He testified to the nature, frequency and quantum of the bribes he received from Chan.

A former Orchard Hills employee also testified that Chan paid Hoe a "kickback" as a reward for the truffle oil purchases, adding that they were made in cash so they could not be traced.

The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) caught wind of the offences and took a statement from Chan in February 2017.

THE DEFENCE'S CASE

Chan's defence was that he paid Hoe S$300 a month as he had employed Hoe as an independent consultant for Orchard Hills.

He claimed he hired Hoe at a rate of S$100 a day, for three days a month, explaining the S$300 payments.

The prosecution argued that there was a "complete lack of documentary evidence" to substantiate this.

Chan also argued that the valuable items he gave Hoe were "fruits of their friendship" and not connected to the truffle oil purchasing arrangements. 

Hoe in turn denied that the items were symbols of friendship. 

Chan said the two red packets he gave Hoe - containing S$188 and S$80 - were nothing more than customary auspicious Chinese New Year gifts.

He will return to court for mitigation and sentencing in November. For each charge of corruptly giving gratification to further his business interests, he could be jailed up to five years, fined up to S$100,000, or both.

Omakase Burger announced earlier this month on Facebook that it was going into "hibernation, meditation and a bit of self-improvement" at the end of October, after nine years of operations in Singapore.

Hoe was fined S$35,000 and given a penalty of S$7,476 in June 2018.

Source: CNA/ll

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