SINGAPORE: In the wake of the charges filed against former Transport Minister S Iswaran, questions have arisen concerning whether charges will also be filed against billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng, given that the 27 charges against Mr Iswaran are connected to alleged dealings with Mr Ong and his companies.

Legal experts who spoke to CNA have said that it may take time to bring charges against Mr Ong for a number of reasons.

The former Transport Minister is said to have accepted from Mr Ong “valuable things” worth more than S$384,000 between November 2015 and December 2022, including F1 tickets worth S$347,152.10, tickets to plays and musicals worth S$10,693.91, Flights and accommodation worth S$20,848.03, and tickets to football matches worth S$5,646.94.

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Mr Ong is best known for bringing F1 to the country, launching the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008. Being a friend of F1 boss Bernie Eccleston, Mr Ong helped seal the deal in 2007 that brought the race to Singapore.

An article by Reuters from March 2007 reported that Mr Ong had met with Bernie Ecclestone, the former chief executive of Formula One Group, that year to discuss the event launch in Singapore.

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The article noted that Mr Ong had connections with Mr Iswaran, who was previously the managing director at Temasek from 2003 to 2006.

Moreover, as the Minister of State for Trade and Industry in 2007, Mr Iswaran collaborated closely with Mr Ong to introduce the F1 Grand Prix in Singapore.

“Over the past decade, we have developed a strong partnership with Mr Ong Beng Seng and his team at Singapore GP, as well as Mr Bernie Ecclestone and Formula 1, to continually enhance the Singapore race and sustain its tourism appeal and economic value,” Today quoted Mr Iswaran as saying during a speech in 2017 when he announced the extension of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix from 2018 to 2021.

On Jan 18, a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Chambers said that the authority would take a decision “in respect of the investigations against Mr Ong and others” after the case against Mr Iswaran “has been completed, including the presentation of evidence in court.”

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This is not the first time the high-profile hotelier has been part of a government investigation. In 1995, his company, Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL), offered discounts to founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and then-deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for luxury properties on Nassim Road. The Lees were cleared of wrongdoing, as was Mr Ong.

Read also: Ong Beng Seng arrested for Iswaran-linked CPIB probe, is out on bail for $100K

July 11, 2023 arrests

In July of last year, at around the same time that an investigation was launched against Mr Iswaran by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), Mr Ong was asked to provide information on the probe.

Mr Ong was issued a notice of arrest and posted bail of S$100,000. As he was out of the country at the time, he surrendered his passport to CPIB upon returning to Singapore. A statement issued by HPL said that he was cooperating fully with the investigations.

Mr Iswaran was arrested on Jul 11, 2023, and was released on bail. He was charged on Jan 18, 2024, and has claimed trial, pleading innocence.

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It could take years

Legal experts who have spoken to CNA have said that the matter of bringing charges to anyone is under the discretion of prosecutors and may take time.

Mr Alexander Woon, a law lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences and a former deputy public prosecutor, told CNA that investigations may be lengthy, particularly in complex white-collar cases that could take years.

But he added that “the prosecution is obliged to act in the public interest,” which would demonstrate that justice is being carried out.

There are other reasons for a delay in bringing charges against a specific party. Farallon Law’s managing director, Nicolas Tang, told CNA that in some cases, individuals whose charges are still pending could end up helping to convict the person already charged.

Additionally, focusing on one accused person at a time may help the AGC’s case more, said Associate Professor Mervyn Cheong from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

“If more parties are involved, it could cause the case and trial to become unnecessarily complicated,” he added. /TISG