High Court sets aside di­rec­tor’s jail term for cor­rup­tion

The Straits Times - - HOME - K. C. Vi­jayan Se­nior Law Correspondent

The High Court has set aside a com­pany di­rec­tor’s five-week jail term for graft and fined him $35,000, rul­ing that the prison term was “man­i­festly ex­ces­sive” based on the sum in­volved and the lack of real loss to the firm.

Heng Tze Yong, 44, also did not ini­ti­ate the bribes, a fac­tor “not to be ig­nored al­to­gether in ar­riv­ing at a sen­tenc­ing de­ci­sion”, and his cul­pa­bil­ity “was not so high as to have crossed the cus­to­dial thresh­old”, said Judge of Ap­peal Chao Hick Tin in judg­ment grounds last week.

Heng had ad­mit­ted last year in a dis­trict court to giv­ing $10,000 in bribes to Ben Ong, the fa­cil­ity man­ager of a semi­con­duc­tor man­u­fac­turer, in re­turn for con­tracts worth about $155,000.

Heng pleaded guilty to one charge of giv­ing $7,000 in bribes, with a sec­ond charge con­sid­ered in sen­tenc­ing.

On ap­peal to the High Court in March, Heng’s lawyers, Se­nior Coun­sel Sant Singh and Mr Tan Hee Jeok, drew the court’s at­ten­tion to a sep­a­rate case with sim­i­lar­i­ties in­volv­ing fi­nancier Thor Chi Tiong, who was jailed six weeks by a dis­trict court last year for giv­ing a $10,000 bribe to the same re­cip­i­ent, Ben Ong.

Chief Jus­tice Sun­daresh Menon had set aside Thor’s jail term, on ap­peal, and im­posed a $35,000 fine in­stead. Thor’s ap­peal was heard af­ter Heng was sen­tenced in the dis­trict court.

Mr Singh ar­gued that like Thor, the thresh­old to im­pose a jail term had not been crossed in Heng’s case.

Deputy Pub­lic Prose­cu­tor Norman Yew and Deputy Chief Prose­cu­tor Tan Khiat Peng dis­agreed and coun­tered that Heng was a se­nior man­ager who gave bribes twice over three months, and not once, un­like Thor.

Jus­tice Chao ac­cepted that these were ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors, but found that Heng’s cul­pa­bil­ity was “broadly sim­i­lar” to Thor’s, bear­ing in mind that both held se­nior po­si­tions in their re­spec­tive com­pa­nies; the bribes were paid to the same re­cip­i­ent, Ben Ong; and no detri­ment was suf­fered by Mi­cron Semi­con­duc­tor Asia, the com­pany Ong worked for.

The judge noted that Mi­cron was “gen­er­ally sat­is­fied” with the prod­ucts and ser­vices sup­plied and “did not suf­fer any real loss”. He also made clear that “any cor­rupt act which would oc­ca­sion a loss of con­fi­dence in a strate­gic in­dus­try (like the semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try) was an ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor that of­ten, but not al­ways, jus­ti­fies a cus­to­dial sen­tence”.

Jus­tice Chao said Heng’s of­fences had “lim­ited nexus” to the semi­con­duc­tor in­dus­try and “in the cir­cum­stances was un­able to ac­cord this pur­ported ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tor any sig­nif­i­cant weight”.

Ong was jailed for 10 weeks last year for tak­ing the bribes.

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