THE mother of former national table tennis player Li Hu intends to appeal after she was sentenced to six weeks’ jail on Tuesday (Jan 30) for bribery in a landmark sporting case of protecting the integrity of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).
District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt felt there was public interest and in passing judgment he says that “this case shows STTA is incorruptible” and he was not swayed by the defence’s argument that a fine was suffice.
Defence lawyer Alfred Dodwell sought a fine, arguing that his client’s actions were “so trivial and lacking to have amounted to an inducement” to Mr Loy Soo Han (STTA technical director) so as to influence an STTA investigation into her son. He immediately rebuffed her offer and reported the matter to the disciplinary committee for further action.
Su Fengxian, 56, who was found guilty following a three-day trial, now intends to appeal as she feels a custodial sentence was harsh for a first-time offender. She has been offered bail of S$15,000.
But Deputy Public Prosecutor Jasmin Kaur wanted a longer sentence that would send “a strong signal” to deter any attempt to bribe STTA officials. She sought at least four months’ jail for Su, noting that her actions could have damaged Singapore’s international reputation in “one of Singapore’s seven core sports”.
In October 2016, Su’s 29-year-old son, a former 2003 world junior singles champion The 2003 world junior singles champion and 2014 Asian Games bronze medallist, was hauled before an STTA disciplinary committee for violating house rules in allowing a female friend to spend a night at the STTA hostel in Toa Payoh. When she heard her son was facing disciplinary action, she tried to help him by offering a bribe of €2,000 ($3,200) to an STTA director, who rejected the bribe.
Su, a China national, had meant the money as inducement to show leniency in her son’s disciplinary case, which also took into consideration his other breaches such as insolence and insubordination.
‘COMMONPLACE IN CHINA CULTURE’
DPP Kaur said Su’s actions were premeditated, adding: “The accused…offered the bribe to Loy because it was a solution that was commonplace in her culture.”
Dodwell strongly argued that Su’s “culture has played a part in colouring her actions”. He added that although she accepts that ignorance of the law is not a valid defence, she “humbly prays that this Honourable Court takes into account that she is a foreigner and that she is accustomed to a different lifestyle wherein such negotiations and bargaining are commonplace and ordinary in China.”
Pushing to impose a fine on Su as opposed to a sentence of imprisonment, Dodwell highlighted that Su’s “alleged act of offering a bribe to Loy was done out of sheer desperation to protect her son’s livelihood and career prospects”. Her son has since been sacked by the STTA and unlikely to represent Singapore in international competitions.
Dodwell says that Su maintains her stance that she is not guilty of the offence as charged. He adds: “It must be noted that nothing stated in this mitigation should be construed as an admission of guilt on the part of Su, who has maintained her position that she is innocent of this allegation.
Her stance was borne more out of ignorance of the law, argues Dodwell. Su, 55, was born into a poverty-stricken farming family in the Hu Bei Province of the People’s Republic of China. She was poorly educated and her highest educational level in Hubei, China (akin to the Junior College level in Singapore). Su had left high school in China at 17 so as to assist her parents and her siblings in their farming business.
‘LOVING AND DEVOTED MOTHER’
Dodwell says: “She was a loving and devoted mother, Su wanted a better life for her one and only son. Though Su and her husband were living in abject poverty, Su had spent exorbitant amounts of money on training Li Hu in his table tennis career. When Li Hu was participating in competitions that were held out of China, Su and her husband would find the means to provide him with the monies for his competitions. To support their son in his aspirations and endeavours in table tennis, Su and her husband lived a thrifty and frugal life.”
Su is currently residing in Singapore with her husband and her son. She has been a law-abiding citizen and has had no previous antecedents with the law, added Dodwell. She is a first-time offender.
Significantly, Dodwell adds: “That is not to say that she will continue to engage in such behavior in the future. Su has learnt her lesson from this one transgression and Su maintains that she has no proclivity to reoffend since she is now fully aware of Singapore’s strict stance against corrumption.”
But District Judge Chay said the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt that an offer had been made and that there was corrupt intention. He was adamant to send a firm message on protecting the integrity of national sports institutions.
Su could have been jailed for up to five years and fined up to S$100,000 for offering a bribe.
During her trial last October, Su told the court that a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officer who acted “like a friend” induced her to sign an incriminating statement following her arrest on Oct 19, 2016. The statement taken at CPIB included the following quote by Su: “I intend to offer the €2,000 to Loy as I wanted him to help my son in his current disciplinary case with STTA. I do not mind if there is any disciplinary action as long (as) my son can stay in STTA.”
She also told the officer she understood that Mr Loy had power over the outcome of her son’s disciplinary proceedings.
Now that an appeal is lodged, the Judge has to write his written grounds of decision to justify his finding and this will be taken up on appeal before a High Court Judge to determine if Su had truly offered a bribe to the official at STTA.