Singapore’s Indian-origin transport minister S. Iswaran on Thursday pleaded not guilty to 27 charges in all – two of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, one of obstructing justice and 24 of receiving gratification as a public servant under the Penal Code.
Iswaran, 61 and also Minister in charge of Trade Relations, arrived at the State Courts at about 8 am on Thursday. He did not respond to questions from reporters during his walk to the court entrance, according to a Channel News Asia report.
He has been Minister for Transport since May 2021. His political career spans more than 26 years since he was first elected in 1997 as a Member of Parliament.
Iswaran was arrested on July 11 last year as part of an investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
The arrest was made public on July 14, although no details were provided on the nature of the investigation, according to media reports.
What was known was that property tycoon Ong Beng Seng had been arrested as well and asked to provide information in relation to his interactions with Iswaran, according to the reports.
Ong also owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix and is chairman of race promoter Singapore GP.
Iswaran had been actively involved in the government’s engagements with F1, including making appearances at press conferences where announcements about the event’s future have been made.
Before he was appointed to the Cabinet in 2006, he served on several government parliamentary committees and was the Deputy Speaker of Parliament from September 2004 to June 2006.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has placed Iswaran on a leave of absence due to the CPIB investigation.
Lee later revealed in parliament that Iswaran had his pay cut to SGD8,500 (USD6,390) a month until further notice. But he was allowed to draw the full annual MP allowance of SGD 192,500.
It prompted the opposition Progress Singapore Party (PSP) to file a motion requesting that Iswaran be suspended as an MP.
The PSP motion was rejected in parliament last September, with MPs voting instead to consider the matter when investigations against Iswaran conclude. Iswaran from the ruling People’s Action Party.
On January 9, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a written parliamentary response that CPIB had completed its probe into Iswaran.
At the People’s Action Party’s (PAP) conference in November, Lee spoke about the need to keep Singapore’s system clean. He also pledged that PAP’s commitment to honesty and incorruptibility was “absolutely non-negotiable”.
Without referencing Iswaran, he told party members, “If you wear white, you must be white (a traditional all-white worn by PAP members). Whether in your party responsibilities or private dealings, never bring yourself or the party into disrepute.
“Do not abuse your position. Do not accept any favours, still less ask for them. It is shameful, it is wrong,” Lee was quoted as saying.
Lee, who is the party’s secretary-general, added that the PAP must prove itself especially when it is tested, by putting principles into action “regardless of any embarrassment or political cost” and dealing with the issues “without fear or favour” while getting to the bottom of the matter.
Iswaran told the court he intends to claim trial, according to a report by The Straits Times.
Court documents show that most of the offences he faces involve property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, who brought Formula One to Singapore in 2008.
In September 2022, Iswaran had allegedly corruptly obtained from Ong gratification with a total value of about SGD 145,434 as inducement for advancing his business interests in matters relating to a contract between Singapore GP and the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), according to The Straits Times report on Thursday. He also allegedly obtained from Ong gratification valued at SGD20,848.03 in December 2022 for advancing his business interests in matters relating to a contract between Singapore GP and the STB and a proposal for a contract with the STB.
He had also allegedly obtained, as a public servant, valuable things with a total value of about SGD218,058.95 from Ong between Nov 2015 and Dec 2021.
Iswaran had also allegedly obstructed the course of justice on or about May 25, 2023.