Former NLB manager admits to graft offences involving nearly $600,000

Ivan Koh Siong Wee (left) had obtained the monies from Low Pok Woen in exchange for advancing the latter's business interests with NLB. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - A former manager of a National Library Board (NLB) department set up to spearhead its move into e-books and other digital resources has admitted to graft offences involving nearly $600,000.

Ivan Koh Siong Wee, 50, had obtained the monies from a director of three firms, Low Pok Woen, 51, in exchange for advancing the latter's business interests with NLB.

On Tuesday (Aug 4), each man pleaded guilty to 20 counts of corruption involving nearly $500,000.

Another 36 other similar charges linked to the remaining amount will be taken into consideration.

The two Singaporeans committed the offences between 2005 and 2009.

Besides working as a manager at NLB's Digital Resource Services Department, the court heard that Koh also headed a company known as Speedcuts, which provided hair-cutting services.

Low was one of its employees between 2001 and 2005.

Deputy Public Prosecutors Suhas Malhotra, Magdalene Huang and Andre Ong stated in court documents that some time around 2004 or 2005, there was a "strategic move" within NLB towards digitalisation.

They added: "Digitalisation refers to maintaining of informative digital databases, procuring of electronic resources such as e-books and e-comics and microfilming of old books. The digital databases, e-book and e-comics maintained by NLB can be accessed online by NLB members."

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NLB's Digital Resource Services Department was then formed to champion this move.

Koh had shared news about NLB's move towards digitalisation with Low.

He also said that "to earn a living", Low could explore a business opportunity in providing digital content to NLB.

In November 2005, Low incorporated a firm known as Database Resource Services to provide this service to NLB.

He later set up two more firms, JCD Crossmedia and W3.XS.

At the time of the offences, Low was a director and shareholder of all three firms.

The prosecutors said that Koh was appointed as a manager of NLB's Digital Resource Services Department in 2005, making him the second in command there.

In November that year, he started asking Low for money for various personal purposes.

Low then set aside about 30 per cent of all the profits earned from his three firms' subscription contracts with NLB to be given as bribes to Koh.

In return, Koh helped advance Low's business interests with NLB in various ways.

For instance, Koh shared confidential information with Low on the digital resources that NLB was interested in.

The DPPs stated: "With this information, Low could... source the market selectively and supply those resources to NLB when the opportunity came."

Koh also advised Low on what prices to quote NLB, the court heard.

The offences came to light after NLB's senior assistant director lodged a police report on Feb 21, 2014, stating that Low's companies might have committed fraud while supplying digital content to the board.

The Commercial Affairs Department investigated Low's companies but took no further action on the allegations.

The case was then referred to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau in 2016.

Responding to e-mail queries, an NLB spokeswoman said Koh was an NLB employee who resigned in November 2014.

"NLB takes a serious view of any corrupt act and does not condone any misconduct by our officers. We expect our officers to uphold the highest standards of duty, conduct and integrity," she said.

"Since this incident, NLB regularly refines and streamlines our direct contracting process. We also enforce direct verification of sole distributorships and rigorously monitor the evaluation process for subscription renewals, in compliance with the Government's Instruction Manual."

Low and Koh were each offered bail of $80,000 on Tuesday. Their cases have been adjourned to Sept 15.

If convicted of graft, an offender can be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000 for each charge.

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