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Singapore

Jail for company director who obstructed investigations into suspected gasoil supply to North Korea

Jail for company director who obstructed investigations into suspected gasoil supply to North Korea

File photo of the State Courts in Singapore. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: A company director was on Tuesday (Jun 7) sentenced to 15 weeks' jail for obstructing investigations into his firm's suspected illegal supply of gasoil to a North Korean vessel.

Manfred Low Cheng Jing, 31, was the director of Singapore-incorporated Yuk Tung Energy, an oil trading and bunkering company.

In January or February 2018, he disposed of an iMac that he knew contained information relevant to police investigations into Yuk Tung Energy.

The Singaporean pleaded guilty to one charge of intentionally obstructing the course of justice, with another similar charge considered for sentencing.

Under international law, Singapore must implement United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions and resolutions against North Korea to counter its nuclear weapons programme.

Singapore has enacted domestic laws in the form of the UN Act and UN (Sanctions - Democratic People's Republic of Korea) Regulations to do so.

UNSC resolutions prohibit the facilitation or engagement of ship-to-ship transfers of all refined petroleum products with North Korean-flagged vessels.

BACKGROUND TO THE CASE

In early 2018, local and international media reported on a suspected ship-to-ship transfer of gasoil from MT Yuk Tung to North Korean-flagged vessel Rye Song Gang 1 on Jan 20, 2018.

There was a commercial arrangement for Yuk Tung Energy to charter MT Yuk Tung. The vessel was owned by another Cook Islands-incorporated company.

On or before Jan 25, 2018, Low learnt about the news reports. He travelled to Kuala Lumpur on Jan 25, 2018.

A day later, the Singapore Police Force's Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) received information about Yuk Tung Energy's suspected involvement and started investigations.

Low's job at the firm included printing out and tallying invoices related to its business dealings. He also reviewed contracts and explained their contents to Benito Aloria Yap, another company director.

Yap was the "key decision-maker" of Yuk Tung Energy, said Deputy Public Prosecutors Tan Ben Mathias, Regina Lim, Koh Mun Keong and Samuel Chew. He is still at large.

Shortly after the news reports came out, Yap went to the company's offices to remove all physical documents, which were packed into boxes and placed in a car.

He instructed an employee to remove a computer used by a shipping executive to process bank documents, payment vouchers, bills and claims.

Yap also instructed that Low's iMac, which was used in Yuk Tung Energy's day-to-day operations, be removed.

The iMac was taken to Low's home and he later disposed of it in an unknown dumpster in Singapore. It has not been recovered.

CAD raided Yuk Tung Energy's offices on Feb 2, 2018. They did not find the iMac, nor the shipping executive's computer.

A day after the raid, Low and other employees were in Johor Bahru with the owner of the Cook Islands-incorporated company that owned MT Yuk Tung. They met Yap there to discuss how to respond to the news reports.

On Feb 13, 2018, the Singapore Government received a request from the United Nations Panel of Experts for an explanation for the ship-to-ship transfer between MT Yuk Tung and Rye Song Gang 1.

The panel also sought other information, including the type and amount of petroleum product transferred to Rye Song Gang 1, the identities of the North Korean points of contact, and copies of documents related to the transaction.

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

When Low got rid of the iMac, he was aware of the news reports flagging Yuk Tung Energy's suspected role in the alleged ship-to-ship transfer and contemplated that police would investigate the firm.

He was also aware that the iMac contained information about Yuk Tung Energy that would be relevant to polices investigations, said prosecutors.

Low was afraid that the police would find incriminating evidence as he "knew that Yuk Tung Energy's business operations were shady", they said.

CAD was able to obtain some information and documents about Yuk Tung Energy's operations, including spreadsheets detailing the company's oil sales report.

However, Low's disposal of the iMac frustrated CAD's ability to fully investigate the company's alleged sanction violations and those criminally responsible, said prosecutors.

Low also lied to investigators that his mobile phone and laptop were destroyed when a car ran over his bag in January 2018.

He later admitted that he had thrown away his phone, which contained information relevant to investigations. This formed the charge taken into consideration.

IMPACT ON SINGAPORE'S REPUTATION

MT Yuk Tung and Yuk Tung Energy were added to the UN sanctions list on Mar 30, 2018, making them subject to sanctions under Singapore's domestic laws.

According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs impact statement cited in court documents, Low's actions had a negative impact on Singapore's international reputation.

"The offence frustrated the Singapore authorities' ability to complete its investigations into the potential violation of the longstanding sanctions against the DPRK as required under international law," court documents stated.

It also subjected Singapore to "international scrutiny and criticism" and "raised questions from our international partners" about the country's commitment to upholding its international obligations.

The offence cast "a negative light on Singapore's reputation as a clean, trusted, and law-abiding jurisdiction for legitimate commercial activity", stated court documents.

The designation of Yuk Tung Energy in the UN sanctions list also increased risks for Singapore's economic and financial sectors by impacting how other local companies are perceived in the global market.

PROSECUTION'S ARGUMENTS

The prosecution sought three months to five months' jail, arguing that Low shielded not only himself but Yuk Tung Energy and other company officers from potential criminal liability.

Prosecutors highlighted the "substantial harm" dealt to Singapore's international standing and reputation through Low's actions.

The CAD's inability to fully investigate the suspected sanctions violation "increases the perception that Singapore was derelict in complying with its international obligations", they said.

"There had been significant international attention on the DPRK launching various missiles, projectiles, rockets and artillery shells, with at least 70 reported incidents from December 2010 and February 2018.

"The importance for Singapore to fully investigate and take actions against suspected contraventions of the UN DPRK Regulations - which are essential to counter the DPRK's nuclear activities - cannot be overstated."

Prosecutors also argued that Low's actions were premeditated, and that he persisted in being evasive after disposing of his electronic devices.

Defence lawyer Diana Ngiam asked for around three months' jail, arguing that her client had acted impulsively and disposed of the iMac before he knew of any impending raid or investigations by CAD.

She said her client "did not know that Yuk Tung Energy's operations were shady to the extent that the operations may involve potential breaches under the DPRK Regulations".

"It must be emphasised that our client was a young adult who had joined Yuk Tung Energy to learn the ropes of the oil trading trade from Benito Yap," said Ms Ngiam.

Those guilty of obstructing the court of justice can be jailed up to seven years, fined or both.

Source: CNA/dv(zl)

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