SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): A former deputy group director of the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on Thursday (Aug 26) admitted to taking about S$1.24 million in bribes in the form of loans from contractors and sub-contractors.
Henry Foo Yung Thye, who had a gambling habit and went on to chalk up debts, pleaded guilty to seven counts of corruption.
Another 29 charges, including cheating, will be taken into consideration for sentencing. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept 2.
Foo first joined LTA in 1999 and held various posts in his time there.
He was the deputy group director of the Thomson-East Coast and Cross Island lines from July 2017 to his resignation in September 2019.
His position in LTA at the time gave him oversight of the construction of MRT stations and tunnels such as Havelock, Stevens, Great World, Napier and Orchard.
Foo was also among the officials who evaluated LTA contracts and subcontracts for the upcoming Thomson-East Coast and Cross Island lines.
Of the loans he sought, the biggest sum of $200,000 was given by Tiong Seng Contractors director Pay Teow Heng in June 2017. It was in exchange for advancing the contractor’s business interest with LTA.
Foo had called Pay to borrow the sum on the pretext of needing to repay his mother's gambling debts to banks and loan sharks.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Andrew Chia told the court that Foo knew that doing so placed him in a position of conflict of interest, as LTA and Tiong Seng had an ongoing contract then.
Pay did not have enough money at the time so he approached Tiong Seng’s managing director Pek Lian Guan for help.
While Pek rejected the initial request, the pair eventually agreed that Pay would borrow the money from Tiong Seng and loan it to Foo.
“The loan was given because Pek and Pay were worried that Foo might give problems to Tiong Seng in the course of overseeing the project, as they were aware that Foo was in the position to make things difficult for contractors,” said DPP Chia.
Pek and Pay’s cases are pending.
The other individuals Foo sought loans from were directors of firms such as China Railway Tunnel Group’s Singapore branch, Tritech Engineering & Testing and MEPT Engineering.
In exchange, Foo shared with them confidential information relating to LTA tenders and promised to support them in their bid for tenders.
His offences came to light in October 2018, when the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau received an anonymous complaint that Foo had been soliciting loans from LTA subcontractors.
The bureau was also informed that Foo had requested for loans from the director of China Railway Tunnel to pay off outstanding debts.
Investigations found that the gratification was received from contractors and sub-contractors which had about $815 million in contracts with LTA. Foo oversaw the contracts.
Seeking a sentence of at least six years and three months’ jail for Foo, DPP Victoria Ting said this case is the “largest case of public sector corruption to have been prosecuted in recent times”.
“It is notable not only for the amount of gratification that changed hands, but also the fact that the corrupt recipient was situated in the high echelons of public service,” she said.
DPP Ting added that Foo had actively solicited the loans: “Most, if not all the givers, initially turned him down. It was only at repeated requests that they agreed to give him the loans.”
Foo’s lawyer Lim Ker Sheon, who was representing him pro bono, said in mitigation that his client was suffering from pathological gambling disorder and it was established to have contributed to his offending.
“There was neither premeditation nor sophistry… He was a desperate man hounded by loan sharks and he borrowed money from anyone he felt close to,” he said.
Lim sought three years and 10 months' jail for Foo, whom he said had “little ability to influence tender outcomes” because LTA had an “open and transparent” system of checks and balances.
Lim also told the court that his client had been cooperative with the authorities during investigations.
“I’ve known Henry since I was five… (He) knows that he’s hurt people who love him and wants to start on a clean slate when he comes out of prison. He has his two sons whom he loves very much,” said Lim.
Foo has since made restitution of $83,750, leaving a balance of $1,156,250.
Anyone convicted of a corruption offence can be fined up to $100,000 or jailed for up to five years, or both.
If the offence is related to a matter or contract with the Government or a public body, the maximum jail term for each offence can be increased to seven years.
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