Singapore minister Iswaran charged in rare corruption case


S Iswaran, Singapore's former transport minister, leaves the Singapore State Courts in Singapore, on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024.
Image caption,S Iswaran’s case has shocked a nation that prides itself on squeaky-clean governance

By Kelly Ng & Tessa Wong

in Singapore

A Singapore cabinet minister has been charged with corruption, in a rare case that has shocked a nation which prides itself on squeaky-clean governance.

Subramaniam Iswaran pleaded not guilty to 27 charges including “obtaining gratification as a public servant”.

He is known for overseeing Singapore’s tourism industry around the time when the Formula One Grand Prix made its glitzy debut in the city-state.

Mr Iswaran quit his post in government on Thursday.

News of the corruption charges has dominated headlines in Singapore’s media.

Charge sheets released by prosecutors revealed allegations that he was gifted more than S$160,000 ($119,145; £93,850) worth of flights, hotel stays and Grand Prix tickets, in exchange for advancing property tycoon Ong Beng Seng’s business interests.

He is also accused of receiving tickets to West End musicals and football matches.

Mr Iswaran was arrested last year along with Mr Ong, who was instrumental in bringing the F1 race to Singapore in 2008. Mr Ong was named in all of Mr Iswaran’s charges, often as the party offering the alleged bribes.

On Thursday, in a letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Iswaran wrote: “I reject the charges and am innocent.”

Besides announcing his resignation, he also said he would return his salaries and allowances since investigations into his case started last July.

Mr Iswaran was put on a leave of absence when he was arrested, but he was still being paid S$8,500 a month. As an MP, he was also receiving an allowance of more than S$15,000 a month.

Singapore’s lawmakers are among the highest-paid in the world, with ministers earning a starting salary of more than S$45,000 a month. Leaders have justified this by saying it would combat corruption.

Mr Iswaran, a veteran of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), has been a director in several major companies throughout his career.

While in government, he held multiple portfolios in the prime minister’s office, home affairs, communications and, most recently, the transport ministry.

But it was during his long stint in the trade and industry ministry that he gained prominence. Mr Iswaran had a hand in developing Singapore’s tourism landscape in the late 2000s and the 2010s.

This was a time when the government poured in vast resources and courted billions in foreign investment to build casinos, hotels, tourist attractions and events like the F1 race.

He was a familiar face on the podium, often handing out trophies to drivers amid celebratory sprays of champagne.

The case against him is one of a series of embarrassing political scandals that have rocked the PAP, which has long touted its strong stance against corruption and amoral behaviour.

Singapore PM Mr Lee said on Thursday that he has accepted Mr Iswaran’s resignation and that his government has dealt with this case “rigorously”.

“I am determined to uphold the integrity of the party and the government, and our reputation for honesty and incorruptibility. Singaporeans expect no less,” he said.

The last time a minister faced a corruption probe was in 1986, when national development minister Teh Cheang Wan was investigated for accepting bribes. He took his own life before he was charged.

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