Man first person to be sentenced to caning for illegal importation of labour

SINGAPORE - A 33-year-old Singaporean man has become the first person to be sentenced to be caned for offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Director of Jasper Contractors Goh Eng Kiat was on Friday (Nov 3) jailed for 45 months and ordered to receive five strokes of the cane.

He pleaded guilty on Oct 25 to 30 counts of illegal importation of labour. Eighty-seven other similar charges were considered for sentencing.

He was also ordered to pay a penalty of $75,000 for the proceeds of the crime. He will have to spend an additional five months behind bars as he was unable to fork out this amount.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has also permanently banned him from employing foreign workers.

Goh had falsely declared to the ministry that his firm would hire foreigners as construction workers even though he had no intention to employ them.

By using false information, he fraudulently obtained work passes for 117 foreign men, mainly Chinese nationals, between November 2013 and March last year.

They never worked for Goh when they arrived in Singapore, and had to look for other jobs on their own.

The court heard that Gohdid not contact them and was unaware of their whereabouts.

In a statement, MOM said: "In total, he received $292,500 from the foreign workers, by far the largest amount received by an offender involving illegal importation of labour."

On Friday, the court heard that of the 117 men, only four managed to find other jobs here. Eighty-eight surrendered themselves after overstaying, 16 are still unaccounted for, while nine were arrested by the authorities.

MOM prosecutor Amos Tan told the court that Goh encountered financial difficulties after starting his company in August 2013.

The following month, Goh met a man known as Maurice Tan, 34, who proposed that Goh could earn some money by bringing in foreign employees under the firm.

Mr Amos Tan said: "For each foreign employee that the accused successfully brought into Singapore, the accused was promised a payment of $2,500. The accused agreed to this arrangement."

Goh provided his NRIC and SingPass account details to Mr Maurice Tan and authorised the latter to make work-permit applications through his company's account.

Mr Amos Tan added: "In order to inflate the quota to employ more foreign employees, the accused and Maurice sourced for local Singaporeans to be phantom workers in order to make CPF (Central Provident Fund) contributions."

They included Goh's father and the older man's three friends. Court documents did not mention if they were aware of Goh's offences. Goh received $1,000 for every phantom worker found.

He was caught after an MOM employment inspector carried out his investigations on May 7, 2014.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Maurice Tan has not been charged in court.

Commenting on the case, MOM's director of employment inspectorate Kandhavel Periyasamy said the ministry wants to remind individuals that illegal labour importation is a serious offence.

Mr Kandhavel, who is from the foreign manpower management division, added: "We will take strong enforcement action against individuals who commit this offence."

MOM said 13 people have been convicted of the crime in the last two years.

Offenders found guilty of illegal labour importation can be jailed for between six months and two years, and fined up to $6,000 on each charge. Those found guilty of six or more charges can also be caned.

On Friday, the court heard that Goh's caning might be reconsidered as he has a heart condition and will undergo surgery to insert a stent on Nov 27.