Singapore’s former Transport Minister, S. Iswaran, is facing court charges for graft, according to the anti-corruption agency, marking one of the most significant cases involving a minister in the Asian financial hub in decades. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) stated in a release that Iswaran, arrested in July last year, allegedly received kickbacks totaling S$384,340.98 ($286,181) from property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, with the intention of advancing Ong’s business interests.
Charge sheets reveal various favors, including tickets to football matches, musicals, flights on Ong’s private plane, and tickets to the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. Iswaran served as an advisor to the Grand Prix’s steering committee, while Ong owns the race’s rights.
The CPIB has leveled a total of 27 charges against Iswaran, encompassing corruption and obstructing the course of justice.
In his resignation letter, published by the prime minister’s office, Iswaran vehemently denied the charges, expressing his commitment to “focus on clearing my name.” If convicted, he faces a potential fine of up to S$100,000 or seven years in prison.
As of now, there has been no response to emails seeking comments from Ong’s office. Despite being arrested in July in connection with the corruption probe, Ong has not been formally charged.
The case has captivated Singapore, renowned for its clean government and infrequent graft scandals involving political leaders. The country’s civil servants receive substantial salaries to deter corruption, with many cabinet ministers earning over S$1 million annually.
Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Singapore as the fifth least corrupt country among 180 nations.
Iswaran, 61, entered Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet as a junior minister in 2006, progressing through various portfolios before assuming the role of transport minister in May 2021.
The last corruption case involving a minister in Singapore dates back to 1986 when a national development minister was investigated for alleged bribery. The minister passed away before facing charges in court.
With Singapore scheduled to hold elections by 2025, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) acknowledged the impact of the graft probe and the resignations of two senior PAP lawmakers in August due to an “inappropriate relationship.”
The PAP is also poised for a leadership transition, with Lee pledging to pass the baton to Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong by November. Addressing Iswaran’s case in a November PAP event, Lee emphasized the party’s need to “show Singaporeans and the world that after half a century in government, the PAP’s standards remain as high as ever.”