3 on trial over graft charges involving embassy worker and bond guarantees for maids

Insurance agent James Yeo Siew Liang is accused of giving more than $21,000 in bribes to freelance translator, Abdul Aziz Mohamed Hanib (left), who he met through an intermediary, Benjamin Chow Tuck Keong (right). PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An Indonesian Embassy labour attache allegedly tasked a Singaporean freelance translator to look for insurance firms or agents willing to give them a share of the premiums linked to performance bond guarantees for Indonesian maids.

A district court heard on Monday (Nov 4) that the insurance firms or agents would then allegedly receive accreditation from the embassy in return.

James Yeo Siew Liang, 48, who represented AIG Asia Pacific Insurance and Liberty Insurance, is accused of agreeing to be part of the plan.

A search on the General Insurance Association Of Singapore's website reveals no information about him.

He is accused of giving more than $21,000 in bribes to the translator, Abdul Aziz Mohamed Hanib, 64.

Yeo is also said to have given more than $71,000 to the labour attache, Agus Ramdhany Machjumi, who is no longer in Singapore.

The court heard that Aziz allegedly found Yeo through an intermediary, Benjamin Chow Tuck Keong, 56, who was a corporate development director of a firm dealing with organic products.

According to court documents, Chow did not give or receive any money.

Aziz, Yeo and Chow are on trial, with Aziz and Yeo facing more than 15 graft-related charges each and Chow, one.

On the first day of the trial on Monday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Alan Loh said that since Feb 1 last year, the embassy in Singapore made it compulsory for all local employers hiring Indonesian maids to buy a $6,000 performance bond.

This allowed the Indonesian Embassy to call on the bond for the benefit of the maids in the event of any purported breaches of employment conditions by the employer.

This was in addition to the $5,000 security bond required by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower.

The DPP added: "This was clearly a lucrative business for general insurers if they received accreditation from the Indonesian Embassy, as they could collect a $70 premium for each (performance bond) issued in respect of an estimated 120,000 (Indonesian foreign domestic workers) in Singapore.

"The insurers could seek reimbursement from the employers in the event that a (performance bond) was called on."

This, in turn, allowed the insurers to pay their agents a "generous" 45 per cent of the premiums earned for each bond and was a "win-win for insurers and their agents", the court heard.

DPP Loh told District Judge Ong Luan Tze that Agus had been in charge of issuing accreditation to insurers for the performance bonds.

He said: "Instead of freely and openly giving accreditation to the 37 licensed general insurance companies in Singapore, Agus tasked Aziz to look for insurance companies (or) insurance agents who would agree to give them a share of the premiums collected in exchange for accreditation."

Between February and June last year, AIG and Liberty sold more than 5,700 performance bonds.

Yeo then allegedly gave the bribes without the two firms' knowledge.

There is also no evidence that the Indonesian Embassy knew or approved of Agus purportedly receiving such share of commissions.

In an earlier statement, the Indonesian Embassy said Agus had left his post, adding: "We are taking the case seriously because we will not tolerate any misconduct.

"Our authority is also seeking to collaborate on mutual legal assistance in accordance with law and regulations of both countries."

Aziz and Yeo are represented by lawyers Andre Jumabhoy and Chia Boon Teck respectively. Defence lawyer Favian Kang represents Chow.

Yeo and Aziz are out on bail of $50,000 each while Chow's bail was set at $10,000. The trial resumes on Tuesday.

The trial resumes on Monday afternoon. For each graft charge, offenders can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000.

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