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Harry Cassin
Publisher and Editor

Andy Spalding
Senior Editor

Jessica Tillipman
Senior Editor

Bill Steinman
Senior Editor

Richard L. Cassin
Editor at Large

Elizabeth K. Spahn
Editor Emeritus

Cody Worthington
Contributing Editor

Julie DiMauro
Contributing Editor

Thomas Fox
Contributing Editor

Marc Alain Bohn
Contributing Editor

Bill Waite
Contributing Editor

Shruti J. Shah
Contributing Editor

Russell A. Stamets
Contributing Editor

Richard Bistrong
Contributing Editor

Eric Carlson
Contributing Editor

Singapore and Corruption

A company closely linked to the Singapore government has been involved repeatedly in corruption scandals in Singapore and overseas over many years. The largest scandal involved the payment of $55 million in bribes. Nonetheless, Singapore has decided not to prosecute or hold those involved to account.

Singapore’s Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited (KOM), a wholly owned subsidiary of Keppel Corp (Keppel), paid $55 million (S$73 million) in bribes in Brazil from 2001 to 2014 to secure contracts with Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, which earned KOM and related entities $351.8 million.

Keppel is a Temasek-linked company. Temasek is Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, with the wife of the prime minister of Singapore as its chief executive from 2004 to 2021. The Chairman of Keppel was a former senior Singapore cabinet minister. Keppel entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, admitting to the corrupt acts and agreeing to pay $422 million in penalties. In Singapore, Keppel was let off with a conditional warning. 

In connection with one of the largest corruption scandals involving a Singapore state-controlled company, no prosecutions have been brought by the Singapore authorities. 

Corrupt acts by companies need actions and decisions of individuals at the company. Six very senior and well-connected individuals at Keppel, including Singapore’s former ambassador to Brazil, have been named in the international media. Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), a government agency that reports to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has let these senior executives at Keppel off with a “stern warning” without naming them. The CPIB cited evidential difficulties as the basis for not pursuing a corruption prosecution. It is impossible to fathom this decision in the context of an open admission of the bribery and the extensive evidence already publicly available over one of the largest corruption scandals in Singapore’s history. 

What is also very troubling is the continued attempts by Singapore government ministers to defend the failure to prosecute in the face of huge public outcry. The stance that continues to be reiterated, including in Parliament, is insufficiency of evidence, notwithstanding that extensive and comprehensive public admissions were already made to U.S. authorities that the company and persons are in Singapore, and the authorities in Singapore have access to wide-ranging powers and sophisticated digital forensic tools. 

In 1997, Keppel had a prior corruption case which involved S$8.5 million of bribes, which was settled with a S$300,000 fine. Some of the individuals involved continued to work at Keppel and were implicated again in the Brazil corruption. Since news of the Petrobras case broke, three other cases involving Keppel have been reported. This is not a few rogue individuals. It is a deep-seated systemic problem.

Singapore has long espoused zero tolerance for corruption. It has prosecuted and jailed individuals for derisory amounts, including a forklift operator, for bribes of S$1 ($0.74). Singapore’s corruption laws extend internationally, and Singapore has also prosecuted Singapore parties involved in overseas corruption. 

This failure to prosecute, when the facts are admitted and glaring, calls into question Singapore’s commitment to its avowed zero tolerance to corruption. Speculation as to reasons for not naming and prosecuting any individuals and what other undisclosed considerations might have been involved is inevitable. That Cabinet Ministers have spoken up to defend the decision not to disclose or prosecute is deeply troubling. 

The failure to prosecute does more damage to Singapore and its reputation than the corrupt acts perpetrated by a Singapore government-linked company.

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