Business owner jailed 20 months, fined $160,000 for illegal importation of foreign workers, collecting kickbacks

SINGAPORE - Despite knowing there was no work for them, the 43-year-old director of Aik Heng Contracts and Services illegally obtained work passes for 10 workers from Bangladesh and collected payment from them to keep their work passes valid.

While in Singapore, the foreign workers had to seek their own illegal employment.

For the illegal importation of labour and for collecting kickbacks, Poh Kwi Ko was sentenced on Thursday (May 24) in the State Courts to 20 months' imprisonment and a total fine of $158,750.

She has also been permanently barred by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) from employing foreign workers.

Poh had faced a total of 42 charges for offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.

Ten charges were for the illegal importation of labour, 19 were for receiving and demanding kickbacks, and another 13 charges for the abetment of foreign workers to be self-employed foreigners without valid work passes.

She pleaded guilty on April 26 to 15 charges of illegal importation of labour and collecting kickbacks, with the remaining 27 taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing.

Investigations revealed that between December 2014 and December 2016, Poh illegally obtained work passes for 10 Bangladeshi workers, even though she knew that there was no work for them. She subsequently collected kickbacks from eight of them as a condition of keeping their work passes valid so that they could work, albeit illegally.

In addition, Poh demanded and collected kickbacks from another 11 foreign workers.

In total, Poh collected almost $119,000 in kickbacks.

The court has ordered Poh to return to the state the illegal proceeds she unlawfully obtained.

In a statement, Mr Kandhavel Periyasamy, director of the Employment Inspectorate at MOM's Foreign Manpower Management Division, advises workers asked by their employers to pay kickbacks and/or to work illegally to approach MOM for assistance.

They can contact the ministry on 6438-5122, or the Migrant Workers' Centre located in Serangoon on 6536-2692.

Mr Periyasamy cautioned that MOM would take strong action against employers committing such offences; such action includes prosecution.

"Forcing workers to pay kickbacks as a condition for work is exploitative, and takes advantage of these workers' desire to work in Singapore," he added.

Anyone convicted of the illegal importation of labour faces imprisonment of at least six months and a fine of up to $6,000 for each charge.

Those convicted of kickback offences can be fined up to $30,000 and/or jailed for up to two years per charge.