Public Prosecutor v Choong Kien Siong

JudgeTey Tsun Hang
Judgment Date28 March 2003
Neutral Citation[2003] SGDC 68
CourtDistrict Court (Singapore)
Published date06 October 2003
Plaintiff CounselJaswant Singh andJeya Shankar (Deputy Public Prosecutor)
Defendant CounselMichael Khoo SC and Josephine Low (Michael Khoo & Partners)
Citation[2003] SGDC 68

The accused, Choong Kien Siong (‘Choong’), aged 46, then the Managing Director of Grandeur Trading (S) Pte Ltd, faced a charge, under section 6(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Chapter 241. The charge was for corruptly giving through his employee, Collin Wong, to one Abdul Mutalib bin Hashim, a marine surveyor in the employ of SGS Singapore Pte Ltd, a gratification of a sum of $990, as a reward for Abdul Mutalib to certify that the bunker barge, ‘Grandeur Pioneer’, had supplied 1,150.194 metric tonnes of grade 380 CST marine fuel oil to the vessel ‘Wolfsburg’, when in fact the ‘Grandeur Pioneer’ supplied 30 metric tonnes less of marine fuel oil.

2 There were many unsatisfactory areas in the Prosecution’s case, with no sensible explanations. The testimonies of the Prosecution’s witnesses were shown to be inconsistent and untruthful, when evidence proving the contrary were adduced in court. The Prosecution’s case was based, inter alia, on testimonies by the witnesses that Choong had prior knowledge of the bribery deal, and his approval to proceed had been obtained over telephone calls on the day of the alleged incident. The telephone call records adduced in court showed the non-existence of the calls, to the contrary of the Prosecution’s case. There was also no evidence that there was a short supply to the ‘Wolfsburg’. The purchaser of the supply raised no protest or complaint of such an alleged short supply. In fact, a high-ranking representative of the purchaser company came to court and confirmed that there was no complaint or protest of the alleged short supply. Choong was shown to be credible throughout the trial. The Prosecution’s witnesses, on the contrary, gave testimonies that had major and critical inconsistencies, and were in fact, shown to be untruthful. In the circumstances, doubts had been raised. These were neither minor nor fanciful, but material and consequential. I acquitted Choong of the charge.

3 The two critical Prosecution’s witnesses, Collin Wong and Philip Tan, were caught twisting the truth, if not outright perjuring in court to shore up the account. Upon very close and careful perusal of the Notes of Evidence, there was sufficient evidence, together with the telephone call records produced in court, to compel me to state in this judgment that there was enough material to merit serious investigations by the authorities into the offence of perjury in court by Collin Wong and Philip Tan, under Section 191 of the Penal Code or other appropriate statutory provision. Having said that, in coming to this judgment, I have not relied on this possible perjury by Collin Wong and Philip Tan at all. It is for the investigating authorities to take up on this matter.

The charge

4 The charge was as follows:

You, Choong Kien Siong.. are charged that you, on or about the 23rd day of October 2001, on board the bunker barge, “Grandeur Pioneer”, Singapore, did corruptly give through one Wong Kwee Yuen to, an agent, to wit, one Abdul Mutalib Bin Hashim, a Marine Surveyor in the employ of SGS Singapore Pte Ltd, gratification of a sum of nine hundred and ninety dollars ($990/-), as a reward for doing an act in relation to his principal’s affairs, to wit, certifying that the bunker barge “Grandeur Pioneer” had supplied 1,150.194 metric tonnes of grade 380 CST marine fuel oil to the vessel “Wolfsburg” when in fact the said “Grandeur Pioneer” supplied 30 metric tonnes less of fuel to “Wolfsburg”, and you have thereby committed an offence punishable under section 6(b) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Chapter 241.

Grandeur Trading

5 Choong, after a certain number of years of experience in the trading business, set out on his own. (Day 7 NE 20) He incorporated the company, Grandeur Trading (S) Pte Ltd. (Day 7 NE 20) The company engaged in oil trading and the supply of marine fuel oil to vessels that called at Singapore. (Day 7 NE 21) With a lot of help from a very capable spouse, as well as his determination and hard work, Choong’s business went through a period of intense growth. Mrs Choong, Choong’s spouse as well as his co-director, also handled the portfolio of operations and personnel. (Day 7 NE 23)

6 The revenues increased by leaps and bounds over the years. At one point, the annual turnover broke the US$100 million mark. (Day 7 NE 22) Choong’s company was one of the top 100 companies in Singapore, in terms of revenue.

The bunkering industry

7 Some time ago, the CPIB detected that some companies in the bunkering industry had indulged in giving out bribes to surveyors, in return for help from the surveyors in short-supplying the vessels. The surveyors would certify that a certain amount of marine fuel oil had been supplied, when in fact less than such an amount was supplied.

Navi Marine

8 Choong’s company, Grandeur Trading, had, at that time, employed a few employees who had formerly worked for Navi Marine. Navi Marine was implicated in the CPIB investigations, and eventually the Managing Director of Navi Marine was found guilty of 57 charges of corruption.

9 Choong’s company was initially investigated for an alleged short supply to a vessel, the ‘Kimberly’. The investigation did not reveal any wrongdoing. Choong was not prosecuted by the CPIB, for this alleged short supply. There was no follow-up by the CPIB on this. However, as a result of the ‘Kimberly’ incident, Choong suspended one of his employees, Collin Wong, from his post for two months. Colin Wong was not paid for that two months.

The ‘Wolfsburg’

10 This trial was about the alleged short supply to a vessel, the ‘Wolfsburg’. As a result of the charge, the company’s marine fuel oil supply licence was suspended by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore. Following that, morale in the company plunged, the clientele dissipated, and Choong, as he told the court, was under tremendous pressure. He and his wife had a US$10 million personal guarantee. They were facing a real prospect of bankruptcy, due to the CPIB investigations and this charge.

The ‘Grandeur Pioneer’

11 In normal operations, marine fuel oil was supplied by the Grandeur Trading company, from its bunker tankers to the receiving vessels. Grandeur Trading company had several bunker tankers, one of them was called ‘Grandeur Pioneer’.

A smooth and uneventful bunkering on 23 October 2001

12 The ‘Wolfsburg’ was bunkered by the ‘Grandeur Pioneer’ in the early hours of 23 October 2001. Collin Wong was then the bunker clerk onboard the ‘Grandeur Pioneer’, in charge of the bunkering operations.

13 Abdul Mutalib, a surveyor employed by SGS, had been assigned to ensure that the correct quantity of marine fuel oil was delivered and supplied to the ‘Wolfsburg’. It was not in every case that a surveyor would be appointed. The surveyor’s role was to certify that the correct quantity and quality of marine fuel oil was supplied to the receiving vessel. A surveyor would normally be appointed by the purchaser of the marine fuel oil.

14 Philip Tan was then employed by Grandeur Trading as a programmer. His job included that of programming the bunker tankers to undertake the supply, oversight and supervision of the overall operation of the supply of marine fuel oil to receiving vessels. His duties also included that of maintaining stock records on board the bunker tankers before and after supply.

15 Collin Wong was employed as a bunker clerk on board ‘Grandeur Pioneer’. He is responsible for taking charge of the actual supply operations. It involved liaising with the receiving vessel’s chief engineer and the surveyor, to ensure that the correct quantity of marine fuel oil was delivered to the receiving vessel.

16 On 16 October 2001, Grandeur Trading had a contract with the Barrel Oil Co (S) Pte Ltd, to supply the vessel, the ‘Wolfsburg’, with 1,150.194 metric tonnes of CST 380 grade marine fuel oil. The Barrel Oil was a joint venture between two Japanese companies i.e. Mitsui Mining Co Ltd and Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. The ‘Wolfsburg’ was owned or chartered by the ‘K’ Line, a Japanese company.

17 The Barrel Oil’s Bunker Delivery Receipt (D8) was adduced in court. The document was the agreed contractual document, evidencing the quantity supplied. It was co-signed by the chief engineer of the ‘Wolfsburg’, acknowledging that 1,149 metric tonnes of 380 CST grade marine fuel oil had in fact been received by the ‘Wolfsburg’ from the ‘Grandeur Pioneer’ on 23 October 2001.

18 The Code of Practice governing the operations of bunkering, the Code of Practice for Bunkering by Bunker Barges/ Tankers (Singapore Standard CP 60) (D5) was adduced in court. Clause 2.1 of CP 60 stipulates that:

In the event of any dispute in respect of the quantity of bunker(s) delivered, the chief engineer of the vessel should raise a Note of Protest which shall be signed and stamped by both parties.

19 Clause 21.1.3 of CP 60 stipulates that a copy of the Note of Protest, together with a copy of the Bunker Delivery Receipt, shall be sent to the Singapore National Shipping Association and the implementing authority within 14 days after the bunker delivery.

20 The bunkering operation for ‘Wolfsburg’ was a smooth one. There was no dispute. No Note of Protest was issued by any party. In short, there was no complaint by any party about any allegation of short-supply to the ‘Wolfsburg’. It was an industry practice to accept a tolerance limit of 0.5% to 1% of the amount contracted for.

21 It was a fact that there was no protest, no complaint and no allegation by any contractual party that there was a short supply of some 30 metric tonnes of marine fuel oil to the ‘Wolfsburg’. This was confirmed by several witnesses – both Prosecution and defence witnesses. It was an uneventful and smooth bunkering exercise.

The Prosecution’s case

22 The Prosecution’s case, in its entirety, depended on the oral testimonies of three critical witnesses:

i. Collin Wong, an employee of Grandeur Trading, also a former employee from Navi...

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