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Former NUS research fellow jailed for cheating school by selling items from own firm at inflated prices

SINGAPORE: A former research fellow with the National University of Singapore Environmental Research Institute (NERI) was sentenced to eight weeks' jail on Tuesday (Jan 15) for cheating the institute by selling it items from her own firm at an inflated price. 

Liang Juan, 42, recommended her own company to NERI at a loss to the institute, and concealed the fact that she was a director and shareholder of the firm.

As part of her job, Liang was to recommend suppliers for research items. She knew that she was required to declare any potential conflicts of interest and disqualify herself from handling any procurement that would put her in such a position, Deputy Public Prosecutor Leong Weng Tat said.

In 2012, Liang recommended Biochem - which she had set up with her husband - to NERI in order to procure items.

Biochem had sourced for the items from overseas at significantly lower prices, and made a substantial profit at NERI's expense, the prosecutor said.

In one instance, in April 2012, Biochem charged NUS three times what it cost to procure the items - billing the school S$5,400 for items that cost only about S$1,800.

In total, NERI suffered losses of more than S$15,000.

NUS hauled Liang up for questioning after the ruse was discovered. In a meeting attended by various NUS officers, including those from the NUS Office of Internal Audit, Liang initially denied that she knew who the owner of Biochem was.

She also shook her head when asked if she was related to any employee from the company.

Officers at the meeting, however, produced Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) search results which listed her as a director and shareholder of Biochem.

When asked why she did not declare her interest in the company, Liang said she was concerned that Biochem's business with NERI would be affected if she made such a declaration.

NERI later confirmed that it would not have approved the transactions if it had known about Liang's association with Biochem.

Liang has repaid the losses in full. The judge granted her a deferment of her jail sentence until Feb 18.

NUS told Channel NewsAsia after the sentencing that Liang is no longer employed by the varsity. 

"The university is committed to a high standard of corporate governance and has put in place a governance structure with comprehensive and clear lines of reporting, responsibility and accountability," said NUS.

"There are robust policies, checks and balances to prevent and address potential conflict-of-interest situations."

Source: CNA/ll(gs)


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