Singapore's first ministerial corruption case expands with new charges against ex-transport minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Singapore’s first ministerial corruption case expanded Monday with new charges alleging a former transport minister received bottles of whisky and wine, golf clubs and a luxury Brompton bike from a contractor who had dealings with the government.

S.Iswaran, a former senior politician in the long-ruling People’s Action Party, pleaded not guilty to the eight charges that bring the total against him to 35. He was first hauled to court two months ago for two graft charges, 24 charges for receiving gifts as a public servant and one for obstructing the course of justice.

Iswaran, 61, pleaded not guilty to obtaining 10 bottles of whisky, 12 bottles of wine and other items from November 2021 to November 2022 from Lum Kok Seng. The items were worth a total of nearly 19,000 Singapore dollars ($14,111).

Lum Kok Seng is the managing director of Lum Chang Holdings, the parent company of Lum Chang Building Contractors, which has work contracts with the government. Although the contracts were awarded before Iswaran became the transport minister in 2021, the charge sheets said he was aware about Lum’s business dealings with his ministry.

Iswaran resigned in January, just before he was charged. At his first court appearance he was alleged to have received goods worth nearly SG$385,000 ($286,000) between 2015 and 2022 from Malaysian property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, some in return for helping the Singapore-based businessman advance his business interests.

The gifts included free tickets for Singapore’s Formula 1 Grand Prix, as well as matches and musicals in the U.K. Ong owns the right to the local F1 race, and Iswaran was chairman of and later adviser to the Grand Prix’s steering committee.

Singapore ministers are among the most well-paid in the world. Although the amount involved in Iswaran’s case appeared mild, his indictment is an embarrassment to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s ruling party, which prides itself on a clean image. Another cabinet minister was investigated for graft in 1986, but died before charges were filed.

Lee has said Iswaran’s case has been dealt with vigorously according to the law and vowed to uphold his government’s reputation for honesty and incorruptibility.

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