Corrupt ex-Ikea manager has to go to jail after appeal court overturns acquittal

Mr Leng Kah Poh, former food and beverage manager for Ikano, the local franchisee of Inter Ikea Systems which runs the two Ikea stores in Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Mr Leng Kah Poh, former food and beverage manager for Ikano, the local franchisee of Inter Ikea Systems which runs the two Ikea stores in Singapore. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - One of the largest cases of private sector corruption in Singapore took yet another twist on Thursday, with the Court of Appeal overturning the acquittal of a former Ikea food services manager.

Leng Kah Poh and two accomplices had skimmed millions of dollars off inflated contracts to supply food to the furniture giant between 2003 and 2009.

Leng, 53, was convicted and sentenced to nearly two years' jail by a district court in July last year. He was also ordered to pay a penalty of $2.3 million, the amount he pocketed from the racket.

But in September last year, on his appeal, Leng was cleared by a High Court judge who said that his actions did not amount to corruption because he was one of the masterminds.

Justice Choo Han Teck said that for Leng to be guilty of corruption, he must have been induced by a third party to act against the interests of Ikano, the company that runs the Ikea stores here. But in this case, there was no third party since it was Leng himself who came up with the idea to rip off Ikano.

The prosecution then brought the case to the Court of Appeal to rule on whether someone could be considered to have been "induced" in cases where the idea of receiving a bribe came from himself and not a third party.

The Court of Appeal ruled that in order to prove corruption, it was not necessary for the transaction to be initiated by a third party. Otherwise, it would lead to "absurd outcomes" in which someone who asks for a gift would not be considered corrupt as he had not been influenced by a third party.

On Thursday, Leng's lawyer S K Kumar tried to persuade the appeal court not to overturn Leng's sentence despite its ruling on the legal issue. He argued that rulings of novel issues should apply only to future cases.

But the appeal court said this was not a new or novel issue - the law had always been clear but the High Court judge in this case had taken a different view.

The court restored Leng's original sentence of 98 weeks as well as the $2.3 million penalty. He will start serving his jail term in two weeks' time.