Ex-NTUC chairman and former MP Phey Yew Kok completes jail term: 6 things about the case

Former MP Phey Yew Kok, who was once one of Singapore's most powerful unionists, came out of hiding after 35 years on the run. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Former NTUC chairman Phey Yew Kok is now a free man, after 36 years on the run overseas and a jail term here.

On Tuesday (Oct 23), his 60-month sentence came to an end, after part of his prison term was cut for good behaviour and he was allowed to serve the last year of his sentence in home detention.

The former MP, 84, had jumped bail and fled Singapore on Dec 31, 1979, to escape charges for misuse of union funds.

He turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on June 22, 2015.

In January 2016, he was sentenced for criminal breach of trust, abetting the fabrication of evidence and intentionally omitting to appear before a court. His sentence was backdated to June 23, 2015.

Here are six things about the case:

1. Who is Phey Yew Kok?

Former NTUC chairman Phey Yew Kok's 60-month sentence came to an end on Oct 23, 2018, after part of his prison term was cut for good behaviour and he was allowed to serve the last year of his sentence in home detention. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Mr Phey was the Member of Parliament for the Boon Teck Constituency from 1972 to 1980. In 1970, he was appointed as President of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC).

He was also elected as the General Secretary of the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (SILO) and became General Secretary of the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU) in the same year.

He was appointed president of NTUC in 1970, and became NTUC chairman on May 25, 1979.

The clerk-turned-unionist was born in 1934 into a humble family. He once said that life was a struggle for him from his school days.

"I drifted from school to school and worked in between to support myself," Mr Phey, who was educated in the Chinese stream before switching to an English stream secondary school, had revealed in an interview.

He was an accounts clerk with Malaysia-Singapore Airlines when he joined the Singapore Air Transport Union.

He was elected a member in 1960, and climbed the ranks to become treasurer and then president of Singapore's major airline workers' union in 1968.

As he rose through the ranks, he also encountered opposition from some quarters.

In 1970, he was attacked twice by hired thugs. In one incident in June that year, he was slashed with a razor that left a 7cm scar on his face.

Five people were convicted for their role in the attacks - three of them employees of the Malaysia-Singapore Airlines where he was union chief.

The public prosecutor described the attacks on him as attempts to erode his popularity and position.

2. What is the case about?

In mid-1979, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau investigated Mr Phey for malpractices in the PIEU and SILO.

On Dec 1, 1979, he was arrested and charged in court on four counts of criminal breach of trust under the Penal Code, Cap. 103.

There were also two charges against him under the Trade Unions Act, Cap. 129, for investing trade union money in Forward Supermarket Pte Ltd. Forward Supermarket was not among the list of approved companies which a registered trade union may invest in.

Mr Phey pleaded not guilty to all six charges. He was released on bail of $100,000 with two sureties. The case was then fixed for mention on Jan 7, 1980.

He failed to appear in court, and a warrant for his arrest was immediately issued against him. Interpol headquarters was alerted and an Interpol Red Notice was issued for his arrest. The Singapore Immigration Department also cancelled his passports.

3. Were others involved in the case?

Other than Mr Phey, 10 other people were charged for their involvement in the crimes. Nine were convicted, while one was acquitted.

4. How much money was involved?

At a Parliament session on March 12, 1984, Acting Minister for Labour, Professor S Jayakumar said that the total money lost by the unions and union-related enterprises - namely SILO, PIEU and NTUC Travel Services Pte Ltd - between 1975 and 1979 was $704,173.93. Of the amount, $557,864.76 was recovered.

5. Was there any information on his whereabouts?

Investigations later revealed that Mr Phey had left Singapore for Kuala Lumpur by train on Dec 31, 1979, and proceeded to Bangkok where he disappeared.

Over the years, police and CPIB have been engaging their foreign counterparts, such as the Thai authorities, for intelligence and assistance to help locate and bring back Mr Phey.

Even though Singapore had no extradition treaty with the Thai authorities, they had helped to raid premises where they suspected Mr Phey to be.

6. What did he do while on the run?

In Thailand, Mr Phey took up odd jobs, including pig farming, working as a hawker and cleaning grease traps to support himself.

He struggled and worried daily about being arrested in Thailand. With no security, safety and a stable income at old age, it became increasingly difficult to survive.

As he aged, his health deteriorated. It became harder for him to find a job and he last worked as a watchman for a godown.

Away from his family, Mr Phey moved from place to place without an identity card or passport, unable to stay long in a single place.

He also became completely blind in his right eye and suffers from severe hearing impairment.

In his mitigation plea during his sentencing, Mr Phey said through his lawyer Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah that he was "ashamed and sorry" for what he had done.

He added that he regretted absconding and realised that he should have stayed on and faced the consequences of his mistake.

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