Jail for HDB officer who violated Official Secrets Act by informing friend of surprise flat inspections
SINGAPORE: A Housing and Development Board (HDB) investigation officer was sentenced to 25 days in jail after informing a friend about an impending inspection of the flat where he was a tenant.
Kalayarasan Karuppaya, a 55-year-old Singaporean, pleaded guilty on Monday (Aug 30) to two charges of violating the Official Secrets Act by communicating information about the upcoming inspection to Damandeep Singh, a 22-year-old Indian national.
The accused - who has been suspended from his duties since Jan 25 last year - was not authorised to release the information to Damandeep.
The court heard on Monday that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau of Singapore (CPIB) had received information on Jan 9 last year relating to Kalayrasan providing Damandeep with information regarding the impending inspection of the HDB flat on several occasions in 2019.
As an investigation officer with the rank of higher estate executive, Kalayarasan’s work involved conducting investigations into subletting and occupancy related infringements in HDB estates, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Thiam Jia Min.
These included offences such as unauthorised subletting of HDB units, overcrowding and the misuse of units for vice or other illegal activities.
As part of his investigations, the accused would be involved in conducting surprise inspections at units identified in feedback and complaints from members of the public as well as the Singapore Police Force, said Ms Thiam.
The accused was aware that information regarding such surprise inspections was confidential information which he was not allowed to share with others, including the owners and tenants of these units.
Together with five others, Damandeep was a registered tenant in the unit in question, Ms Thiam said, noting the maximum number of people allowed to stay in the unit is six.
Any breach of this condition might potentially result in a debarment of unauthorised tenants from renting HDB units for a fixed period and the unit owner from renting out the unit.
“Investigations revealed that at all material times, Damandeep and some of the other registered tenants illegally sublet the unit to more tenants, in breach of the HDB rules,” said Ms Thiam.
“The purpose of this was so that the illegal subtenants could bear some of the cost of the monthly rental of the unit. They collected about S$200 monthly from each illegal subtenant,” she added.
A total of about 12 to 13 people were staying in the flat at any one point, she noted, adding that Kalayarasan was not aware of these facts at the time.
FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO
Kalayarasan became friends with Damandeep after conducting two inspections at the unit where he was staying in 2017 and 2018, said Ms Thiam.
The prosecution noted that sometime before May 8, 2019, the HDB received a complaint from a member of the public regarding suspected overcrowding in the flat where Damandeep was a registered tenant.
The case was assigned to Kalayarasan, who informed Damandeep about the complaint. Damandeep then asked Kalayarasan to inform him ahead of time if there was going to be a surprise inspection conducted by HDB at the unit.
“Damandeep explained to the accused that he liked the location of the unit very much and was worried he might have to give it up if he got caught for allowing his friends to sleepover on some nights, such that the unit would be overcrowded,” said Ms Thiam.
“In actual fact, Damandeep made this request so that he would have sufficient time to inform the illegal subtenants to vacate the unit prior to HDB’s inspection,” the prosecutor added.
Noting Kalayarasan was not aware of this, Ms Thiam said the accused agreed to Damandeep’s request because of their friendship.
The accused was aware that he would be undermining the HDB’s investigations in doing so, and was not promised any compensation for relaying the information to Damandeep, she added.
A surprise inspection of the unit was scheduled for May 8, 2019, and the accused called Damandeep to inform of the inspection on the evening of that date.
Damandeep then informed the illegal subtenants to quickly move out of the unit before the inspection, Ms Thiam noted.
When Kalayrasan arrived at the flat on the evening of May 8 with another officer, only two registered tenants were present.
The flat showed no observable signs of overcrowding or illegal subletting and the case was closed with no further action taken, the prosecution noted.
Between August and September that year, officers from the Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre later conducted checks at various HDB flats, including the one where Damandeep was a tenant.
The police found the unit overcrowded on their two visits on Aug 24 and Sep 4 that year, with 19 and 18 occupants on each occasion respectively.
As preliminary investigations indicated that these were illegal subtenants, the police referred the case and their findings to the HDB, with the case assigned to a Chris Ong.
Mr Ong asked Kalayarasan - who had by that time been assigned to other areas - to partner him to inspect the unit, as he was aware that the accused had previously conducted inspections there.
A surprise inspection was scheduled for the evening of Sep 10, 2019, which Kalayarasan then informed Damandeep of.
That night, the accused and Mr Ong arrived at the unit for their inspection and found that no one was home.
They called Mr Leong Mun Chong, who was the owner of the flat, and he arrived about 15 minutes later with Damandeep.
They found three occupants in the house at the time and no observable signs of overcrowding or illegal subletting, the prosecution said.
After being informed of the police referral and the suspected overcrowding, Mr Leong decided to terminate the tenancy and the unit was vacated by Sep 22, 2019.
The prosecution had called for a sentence of one month’s imprisonment per charge, to run concurrently.
Ms Thiam said Kalayarasan’s actions had undermined the HDB’s investigations, adding that the accused had "not only neglected but actively obstructed" his own duties as an enforcement officer with the agency.
Kalayrasan’s case differed from earlier breaches of the Official Secrets Act in that previous cases did not involve enforcement officers violating the laws they were supposed to administer, and that “real consequences” had emanated from his acts, which had allowed Damandeep to evade detection, the prosecutor argued.
In her mitigation, Kalayarasan’s lawyer Cheryl Sim asked for a two week jail term, noting her client had neither received nor sought any personal gain from his actions.
Ms Sim noted the accused had pleaded guilty to the offences at the earliest opportunity and that it was his first brush with the law.
Kalayarasan regretted that his friendship with Damandeep had clouded his judgment, and hoped to be able to move past this chapter in his life, the defence added.
In passing his sentence, District Judge Prem Raj noted that as an investigation officer, the accused would be well aware of the impact of informing tenants about surprise checks.
“Such conduct can never be condoned,” he said.
Those found guilty of an offence under the Official Secrets Act face a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to S$2,000.