40 more charges for ex-MD allegedly linked to conspiracy involving $1.9m in stolen oil

Former Sentek Marine managing director Pai Keng Pheng was granted bail of $1 million after a lengthy debate in court. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The founder of a bunkering firm who was allegedly part of a conspiracy to receive nearly US$1.4 million (S$1.88 million) in stolen marine gas oil is now accused of bribing employees with almost $840,000 to avoid police investigations.

Former Sentek Marine managing director Pai Keng Pheng, 58, was on Friday (Oct 22) handed another 40 charges of bribery and obstructing the course of justice on top of his previous charge of receiving stolen property.

He was granted bail of $1 million on the same day after a lengthy debate in court.

His sister Pai Guat Mooi, 53, and Wong Wai Seng, 50, were also charged with corruption linked with these alleged offences.

Earlier media reports stated that about 3,000 tonnes of marine gas oil had been transferred in March 2017 from Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery to a vessel owned by Sentek Marine, one of Singapore's biggest marine fuel suppliers.

Pai Keng Pheng was said to be part of a group that had planned to dishonestly receive the stolen oil products, according to court documents at the time.

The charge sheets added that Pai allegedly knew that the gas oil was stolen property, and that the transfer was made on his urging.

A joint statement by the police and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on the 40 fresh charges released on Friday said that Pai Keng Pheng allegedly arranged for three bunker clerks to leave Singapore between 2018 and this year.

This was to make them unavailable for police investigations into the oil heist. He allegedly gave the three clerks or their representatives around $839,540, assisted by Wong, Pai Guat Mooi and others whose details were not given.

The former managing director also allegedly instructed Wong to tell the clerks in January 2018 to dispose of their mobile phones, which he knew likely contained evidence for the police.

In November 2018, he is said to have told Wong to lie to the police that the three bunker clerks were out at sea and uncontactable, intending to conceal their true location from the police to obstruct investigations into the case.

The statement added that those convicted of a corruption offence can be fined a maximum of $100,000 and jailed for five years.

Those who obstruct police investigations can receive a maximum sentence of a fine and seven years in prison.

In a two-hour debate in court on whether Pai Keng Pheng's bail should be revoked, the prosecution said there was a high risk he would tamper with investigations or flee before the next hearing.

Urging District Judge Eugene Teo to deny bail, deputy public prosecutor Christopher Ong cited an incident in September last year when Pai Keng Pheng is said to have disregarded the police's request to speak to him.

Instead, he had his driver ferry him around for a day in spite of the investigation, the court heard. His exchange with the driver was retrieved from the vehicle's camera, which DPP Ong said revealed he had mocked the police investigator about the fact he had been promoted.

"That is the kind of attitude towards the investigation we are talking about," said DPP Ong.

Defence lawyer Davinder Singh urged the judge to grant Pai Keng Pheng bail, arguing that the prosecution's evidence was mere allegations and that his client needed to be out of jail to prepare for court.

He added that it was highly unlikely that Pai Keng Pheng would flee the country as he needs to tend to his sick wife.

Judge Eugene Teo stated that he will allow bail and gave a short adjournment. The prosecution then suggested that the bail amount be raised by five times to $1.5 million, which was then challenged by Mr Singh.

Judge Teo decided on a bail amount of $1 million and set a pre-trial conference for Oct 29.

Correction note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the District Judge and Deputy Public Prosecutor involved in the case. The AGC also clarified that it did not retract the bid to deny bail but instead withdrew its application for a stay of the judge's decision to allow bail. We are sorry for the errors.

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