SINGAPORE: A section manager working for lift company Mitsubishi Elevator (Singapore) was close friends with a director at a firm performing sub-contracted jobs for Mitsubishi Elevator.
But the friendship took on a corrupt tone when the director began paying off the gambling losses made by the manager, and even offered the manager’s wife a job with salaries and Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions.
The manager, 47-year-old Singaporean Lee John Chieh, was fined S$20,000 (US$14,930) by a district court on Tuesday (Jan 23) after pleading guilty to one count of corruptly accepting gratification under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The court heard that Lee was the section manager of the installation and testing department at Mitsubishi Elevator Singapore and managed the daily operation of lift installation projects.
He got to know co-accused Yu Zhongjian, a 51-year-old Singaporean, in 2015 or 2016 when Yu’s company MSP Lift Engineering was a subcontractor for Mitsubishi Elevator.
Yu’s company provided lift installation and repair services to other companies including Lee’s firm.
The two men became closer when they worked together representing their companies on the Selective Lift Replacement Programme in Choa Chu Kang and Ang Mo Kio, a government programme replacing old lifts with modern ones.
In mid-2019 to end-2021, Lee went for about 50 gambling sessions with Yu and Yu’s colleagues in Yu’s office.
Lee actively avoided telling any of Yu’s colleagues what his job was, as he did not want to disclose that he had a working relationship with Yu.
The gamblers would total their winnings and losses at the end of the night and settle their losses in cash.
During at least five of these sessions, Lee did not have the cash to settle his losses and Yu would step in to pay them off. Lee never repaid the money, and Yu never asked for it back.
The payments came up to about S$1,000.
THE JOB OFFER
In February or March 2020, Yu suggested to Lee that his unemployed wife take up a job with Yu’s company.
He suggested a nominal salary of S$1,184, with CPF contributions. Yu made this suggestion as the employment of Lee’s wife, being a Singaporean, would allow the company to receive CPF contributions which could be used to apply for foreign workers.
Yu told Lee that his wife would need to go to the office only occasionally, to be present during checks conducted by the Manpower Ministry.
Lee’s wife agreed to the proposal and was hired by the company for seven months between April 2020 and October 2020.
Across that period, she received S$8,288 in salary and S$3,836 in CPF contributions, for a total sum of S$12,124.
Lee’s wife seldom went to the office. By the end of January 2021, she found another job.
Lee then told Yu to stop paying his wife salary and CPF contributions. He offered to return the money paid to his wife, but Yu rejected the offer.
As a result of the payments received by himself for his gambling and his wife for her job, Lee’s judgment was clouded.
In effect, he exercised leniency when dealing with projects by Yu’s company.
Yu also knew this. He knew that Lee would help him and be a “friendly force” for his company, and believed that Lee was one of his company’s “people”, court documents stated.
THE HDB LIFT-TERM PROJECT
In 2021, Lee’s company was appointed as the contractor of the 29th Lift-Term Project for the Housing Board (HDB) – a S$40 million project involving the installation of 300 lift units for HDB Build-To-Order projects.
In end-2021, Lee’s company was considering choosing between two competing subcontractors – including Yu’s firm – to fit lights for the lifts.
The company asked Lee to provide a comparison between the lights sold by the two companies.
In a tabulated comparative analysis, Lee stated that the lights from Yu’s company were more suitable in terms of wattage, built quality and size.
He claimed that the lights by the other company failed certain test requirements and recommended Yu’s company, despite the lights costing S$5 more per piece than the other company’s.
In truth, there was no evidence that the competing company’s lights had failed the requirements. Both sets of lights were comparable in terms of safety standards.
Lee had made that analysis because he deliberately favoured Yu’s company, the court heard.
After the flawed recommendation was made, Lee’s company discovered the offence and Lee was fired that same month in December 2021.
The company did not buy the lights from Yu’s company.
In June 2022, Lee surrendered the sum of S$12,124 to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
Deputy Public Prosecutor Hidayat Amir sought a fine for Lee, leaving the quantum to court.
The corruption charge is punishable by a maximum fine of S$100,000, up to five years’ jail, or both.
The offence was discovered by another employee and was not a result of Lee coming forward in a sign of remorse, said Mr Hidayat.
Defence lawyers from Lighthouse Law – Mr Adrian Wee, Ms Lynette Chang and Mr Matthew Low – similarly sought a fine for their client.
Mr Wee said his client is a father of two with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and production engineering from Nanyang Technological University.
The lawyer said Lee’s wife was out of a job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Yu suggested that she work for his company.
Yu did not make any express requests of Lee in exchange for the gambling loans or for employing Lee’s wife, said Mr Wee.
On the 2021 Lift-Term Project, Mr Wee said his client was partly motivated by the fact that the lights supplied by Yu’s company were superior in durability and easier to install.
Lee also believed that the end-user – HDB – would have incurred no additional costs since the lights were a component of the lift and supplied pursuant to a lump sum contract.
Thus, HDB would also benefit from having lights that were more durable and easier to maintain, said Mr Wee.
The tabulated comparative analysis was prepared after Lee consulted his company’s in-house professional engineer and his own superior, said the lawyer.
Lee was allowed to pay his fine in two instalments.
Yu is set to plead guilty in March.