Former Singapore corruption bureau head jailed 10 years

Assistant director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau Edwin Yeo, who was charged in July with 21 offences including misappropriation and forgery, arriving at the Subordinate court on Feb 20, 2014. — Today pic
Assistant director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau Edwin Yeo, who was charged in July with 21 offences including misappropriation and forgery, arriving at the Subordinate court on Feb 20, 2014. — Today pic

SINGAPORE, Feb 21 — He made 372 trips to the casinos over two-and-a-half years, losing at least S$478,583 (RM1.2 million) at Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands between April 2010 and September 2012. From 2008 to 2012, he lost S$263,699 through betting with Singapore Pools.

To fuel his gambling habit, former Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) Assistant Director Edwin Yeo Seow Hiong misappropriated funds issued to the branch he headed within the bureau.

Details of how he did so emerged yesterday as Yeo, 39, pleaded guilty to three charges of criminal breach of trust and one charge of forgery. He had faced 21 charges, but one charge of criminal breach of trust was dropped and 16 others taken into consideration as District Judge Ng Peng Hong sentenced Yeo to 10 years’ jail for his offences.

Yeo’s case had led to an independent review, which concluded that supervisory lapses had led to a lack of financial controls at the bureau. A new director was appointed in a move to rebuild public trust in the unit, while the two directors who were at the helm when the supervisory lapses occurred were issued warning letters.

The government also tightened rules governing public servants’ visits to casinos, including getting those who frequent the gaming tables to declare how often they make such trips or if they buy annual visit passes.

Yeo, who is married with a five-year-old son, was head of the CPIB’s Field Research and Technical Support (FRTS). His illegal actions came to light in September 2012 when the CPIB received information that payment for certain operational expenses incurred by his branch were overdue.

On Oct 18 that year, the bureau lodged a report with the Commercial Affairs Department that Yeo had embezzled money.

The court heard yesterday that for each sum of money Yeo misappropriated, he would cover up the missing funds using the next sum of cash available. This was because the earlier funds had been spent on his personal debts and expenses. He also asked his staff to negotiate with vendors for delayed payment of sums owed to them.

For one of the charges, Yeo had gone against the management’s instruction to have two people authorising transactions for an FRTS bank account.

He applied for Internet banking facilities, which allowed online transactions to be carried out using a single Internet banking token, and transferred S$470,265 from the account into his personal account between May and August 2012.

On the forgery charge, he edited a voucher documenting payment to trick CPIB Assistant Director of Administration and Support Sze Chinyu into thinking payment had been made to an equipment supplier. In total, Yeo misappropriated S$1.76 million, of which S$1.64 million has not been repaid.

District Judge Ng said retribution and deterrence must be considered in sentencing Yeo, whose actions impacted public confidence in the integrity of the public service. Only a small fraction of the money has been recovered and his misdeeds took place over a substantial period of time — between April 2009 and August 2012.

The judge agreed with prosecutors that this was a case of “egregious abuse of position and trust”, and noted that “the offences were well-planned and hard to detect”.

“The Court has to signal the society’s moral opprobrium over his offences and deter any like-minded offenders,” District Judge Ng said. He felt the focus ought to be on the aggregate sentence imposed and not the length of individual sentences, as was highlighted in the case of two former Singapore Land

Authority employees who had also defrauded their employer of significant sums of money. In the SLA case, Koh Seah Wee and Lim Chai Meng received jail terms of 22 years and 15 years, respectively, for defrauding the agency of more than S$12 million.

Defence lawyer Tan Hee Joek, who had said in mitigation that his client had received prestigious awards in his 15 years with the CPIB and never took a single day of medical leave, said Yeo was unlikely to appeal.

The CPIB said that based on yesterday’s conviction, it would be initiating civil service disciplinary proceedings against Yeo, who has been suspended from duties and interdicted since Sept 15 last year.

Yeo would most likely be terminated from the service and thereby lose his superannuation benefits, estimated to be worth about S$100,000. — Today