Ex-NTUC chairman and MP Phey Yew Kok charged after 35 years on the run: 5 things about the case

Former MP Phey Yew Kok, who was once one of Singapore's most powerful unionists, has come out of hiding after 35 years on the run.
Former MP Phey Yew Kok, who was once one of Singapore's most powerful unionists, has come out of hiding after 35 years on the run.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - After more than three decades on the run, former NTUC president and Member of Parliament Phey Yew Kok was back in court on Wednesday (June 24) to face charges first read to him in 1979.

Phey, 81, had jumped bail and fled Singapore on Dec 31, 1979, to escape charges for misuse of union funds.

He turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 22, 2015.

 

Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau officers escorted him back to Singapore on the following night.

Phey pleaded guilty to 12 charges on Friday (Jan 22).

These included committing 10 counts of criminal breach of trust, one count of abetting the fabrication of false evidence to a public servant and one count of failing to attend court when ordered to by a judicial officer.

Phey consented for the remaining 22 charges to be taken into consideration when sentencing.

Here are five things the case:

1. Who is Phey Yew Kok?

Phey was the Member of Parliament for the Boon Teck Constituency from 1972 to 1980. In 1970, he was appointed as President of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

He was also elected as the General Secretary of the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO) and became General Secretary of the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU) in the same year.

He was appointed president of NTUC in 1970, and became NTUC chairman on May 25, 1979.

The clerk-turned-unionist was born in 1934 into a humble family. He once said that life was a struggle for him from his school days. "I drifted from school to school and worked in between to support myself," Phey, who was educated in the Chinese stream before switching to an English stream secondary school, had revealed in an interview.

He was an accounts clerk with Malaysia-Singapore Airlines when he joined the Singapore Air Transport Union. He was elected a member in 1960, and climbed the ranks to become treasurer and then president of Singapore's major airline workers' union in 1968.

As he rose through the ranks, he also encountered opposition from some quarters.

In 1970, he was attacked twice by hired thugs. In one incident in June that year, he was slashed with a razor that left a 7cm scar on his face.

Five people were convicted for their role in the attacks - three of them employees of the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines where he was union chief.

The public prosecutor described the attacks on him as attempts to erode his popularity and position.

2. What is the case about?

In mid-1979, the CPIB investigated Phey for malpractices in the PIEU and SILO.

On Dec 1, 1979, he was arrested and charged in court on four counts of criminal breach of trust under the Penal Code, Cap. 103.

There were also two charges against him under the Trade Unions Act, Cap. 129, for investing trade union money in Forward Supermarket Pte Ltd. Forward Supermarket was not among the list of approved companies which a registered trade union may invest in.

Phey pleaded not guilty to all six charges. He was released on bail of $100,000 with two sureties. The case was then fixed for mention on Jan 7, 1980.

He failed to appear in court, and a warrant for his arrest was immediately issued against him. Interpol headquarters was alerted and an Interpol Red Notice was issued for his arrest. The Singapore Immigration Department also cancelled his passports.

3. Were others involved in the case?

Other than Phey, 10 other people were charged for their involvement in the crimes. Nine were convicted, while one was acquitted.

4. How much money was involved?

At a Parliament session on March 12, 1984, Acting Minister for Labour, Professor S Jayakumar said that the total money lost by the unions and union-related enterprises - namely SILO, PIEU and NTUC Travel Services Pte Ltd - between 1975 and 1979 was $704,173.93. Of the amount, $557,864.76 was recovered.

5. Was there any information on his whereabouts?

Investigations later revealed that Phey had left Singapore for Kuala Lumpur by train on Dec 31, 1979, and proceeded to Bangkok where he disappeared.

Over the years, police and CPIB have been engaging their foreign counterparts, such as the Thai authorities, for intelligence and assistance to help locate and bring back Phey.

Even though Singapore had no extradition treaty with the Thai authorities, they had helped to raid premises where they suspected Phey to be.

But Phey remained at large.