3 charged over alleged excessive clearing of Kranji woodland

The cleared site created a public uproar as netizens and nature-lovers lamented over the loss of so much greenery. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Three people, including a former deputy director at JTC Corporation linked to the unauthorised clearing of Kranji woodland, were charged in court yesterday.

Trees in an area spanning more than 7.3ha – about the size of eight football fields – were cleared before approval was granted.

The issue was highlighted after aerial photos of the site appeared on social media. 

Chong Pui Chih, 46, was handed seven charges under the Parks and Trees Act.

Neo Jek Lin, 44, a JTC senior project manager at the time of the alleged offences was also charged.

He was handed eight charges - seven under the Parks and Trees Act and one under the Wildlife Act.

The third person, an employee from consultancy firm CPG Consultants, Tan See Chee, 63, faces five charges under the Parks and Trees Act.

At the time of the alleged offences, he was a qualified person and superintending officer of the contracts.

His colleague Jimmy Liu Wing Tim, 62,a superintending officer's representative at the time, is expected to be charged at a later date as he is on hospitalisation leave until May 22.

All four are accused of being part of a conspiracy to cause construction company Huationg Contractor to cut trees with girths exceeding 1m growing on vacant land without approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.

They allegedly committed the offences some time before Jan 13 last year.

Huationg is then said to have cut down more than 300 of such trees at Kranji Agri-Food Innovation Park (Afip) in Kranji Close and Kranji Road.

The trees were located in multiple plots in the area. There were more than 10 plots in all.

Chong is also accused of two counts of falsifying documents to obtain approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation.

On Nov 19, 2020, she allegedly drafted and sent an e-mail to an officer from the National Parks Board (NParks) seeking approval for clearance works at a plot at Kranji Afip.

According to court documents, this is said to be false as clearance works at the plot had already started by then.

On Jan 12 last year, she allegedly created and presented a Microsoft Powerpoint document to an NParks officer seeking approval to start clearance works at other plots at Kranji Afip.

Court documents stated that this is also said to be false as such works at the plots had started by then.

Neo is accused of making similar false documents in November 2020 and January last year.

Separately, he also allegedly hindered the director-general of wildlife management around Sept 25, 2020.

Neo is said to have instructed Mr Liu to send an e-mail to an NParks officer containing a schedule for the clearance works at Kranji Afip.

This was in response to an e-mail from NParks on Sept 2 that year asking for information on the state of the clearance works at the site.

It purportedly showed that clearance works had started on only one particular plot at the site when in fact, Neo allegedly knew that such works had already begun on other plots there without the implementation of any wildlife-related measures.

As a result, Neo is said to have prevented the director-general from exercising his powers to stop work at the site.

According to court documents, the director-general would have done so if he had known the true state of the clearance works there.

The cleared site had created a public uproar as netizens and nature lovers lamented the loss of so much greenery.

The Straits Times had earlier reported that JTC engaged a consultant to execute planning and design works for Afip from May to July 2019.

The consultant then submitted a building plan for tree felling and conducted a study that detailed plants in the area.

On Aug 29 that year, NParks approved the consultant's request to clear three of 18 plots of land after verifying trees that could be felled.

Site clearance works for one of the three plots then began on March 2, 2020.

But on Jan 13 last year, JTC's project manager discovered the further clearing and immediately suspended all work.

Huationg was issued a stern warning two days later, and the following month, JTC released a media statement acknowledging the "erroneous" clearing.

In March this year, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing told Parliament that police investigations into the unauthorised clearing of Kranji woodland have found that two JTC officers had misrepresented facts and given inaccurate information to their superiors.

Mr Chan, who used to be the Minister for Trade and Industry, said then that the unauthorised clearance occurred between late December 2020 and Jan 13 last year.

In an earlier statement, Ministry of Trade and Industry said it takes "a very stern and serious view" of the incident and does not condone such misconduct.

Separately, JTC chairman Tan Chong Meng had said: "This is a serious incident and JTC acknowledges the lapses. JTC will remedy our shortcomings and improve our processes."

The cases involving all four have been adjourned to May 23.

Responding to queries, JTC said Neo has been suspended. Chong, however, is no longer working for the company.

The JTC spokesman said: "JTC takes a serious view of this incident. We urge the public not to speculate on the motives and circumstances as the matter is before the courts."

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