Home MarketsAsia Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran resigns; faces corruption charges

Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran resigns; faces corruption charges

by SuperiorInvest

S. Iswaran, Singapore’s transport minister, leaves the Singapore State Courts in Singapore on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. Iswaran was charged with corruption, the latest development in the biggest political scandal to hit the city-state in almost four decades. Photographer: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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SINGAPORE – Singapore Transport Minister S. Iswaran has resigned after the country’s anti-graft agency formally informed him of charges, including corruption, following months of investigations.

On Thursday, Iswaran appeared in court and was slapped with 27 charges. There were 24 counts of obtaining gratification as a public servant, two counts of corruption and one count of obstruction of the course of justice. He pleaded not guilty.

The minister resigned two days ago, according to a statement from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The prime minister’s office said acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat will be promoted to full minister, taking over Iswaran’s portfolio as transport minister.

In letters to Lee, Iswaran said he would return the salary he received as a minister and allowances as a member of Parliament since the investigation began in July.

“I am doing this even though I deny the charges and am innocent,” he wrote. “For the avoidance of doubt, I will not ask for this money back if, as I firmly believe, I am acquitted.”

Iswaran has been accused of obtaining tickets from billionaire Ong Beng Seng to the Singapore Grand Prix, football matches and shows in the UK.

According to CNBC calculations, Iswaran obtained 116 Singapore Grand Prix tickets between 2016 and 2022, worth S$347,152.10 ($258,388.78). The races were not held in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Ong is credited with bringing Formula 1 to Singapore in 2008. In 2022, his private company Singapore GP and the Singapore Tourism Board obtained the rights to host the Singapore Grand Prix until 2028.

Last July, Ong was arrested by Singapore’s anti-graft agency as part of its investigation involving Iswaran.

Ong, managing director of Singapore-listed hotel owner and operator Hotel Properties Limited, was asked to provide information about his interactions with Iswaran.

A spokesperson for Singapore’s Attorney General’s Office said the anti-graft agency also investigated the role of other people, including Ong.

The AGC said it will “make a decision regarding investigations against Mr Ong and others once the case against Mr S Iswaran has been concluded, including the submission of evidence to the court”.

Iswaran was the first Singapore cabinet minister to be charged with corruption in the country and the first to be investigated since 1986, when then National Development Minister Teh Cheang Wan was investigated for corruption. He committed suicide before they could be formally charged in court.

The former minister was arrested by the CPIB on July 11, following a probe by the corruption bureau in a separate matter. He was later prohibited from holding office and his salary was reduced.

Lee also ordered Iswaran to take a leave of absence until investigations were completed. Lee vowed to maintain “zero tolerance” toward any wrongdoing by government officials.

Political scandals are not common in Singapore, a country touted for its clean government and incorruptible image.

Singapore pays its ministers the highest salaries in the world and prides itself on its clean reputation. The Southeast Asian nation currently ranks fifth in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

CNBC’s Christine Wang contributed to this report.

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