SINGAPORE - After more than three decades on the run, former NTUC president and Member of Parliament Phey Yew Kok was back in court on Wednesday to face charges first read to him in 1979.
Phey had jumped bail and fled Singapore on Dec 31 that same year to escape charges for misuse of union funds. At the time, he had been charged with four counts of criminal breach of trust involving $83,000 on Dec 10, 1979. He was also charged with two counts under the Trades Unions Act for investing $18,000 of trade union money in a private supermarket without the approval of the minister.
He pleaded not guilty to all six charges, and was released on bail of $100,000 with two sureties.
On Wednesday, all six charges were re-read to Phey, who is now 81.
After reading the charges to him, the court interpreter told the court that Phey was hard of hearing and wanted to verify the two Trade Unions Act charges. He wanted to know if the money was deposited into his own account or the supermarket's.
He later addressed the court by speaking aloud: "Your Honour, I speak a bit louder because my hearing is very bad. Hope you will excuse me. Your Honour, those charges, if my memory still does not fail me, I don't think the money was transferred to my personal account..."
He wanted to say more but was stopped by District Judge Eddy Tham.
Phey had turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday. Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) officers escorted him back to Singapore on Tuesday night.
The prosecution has applied for him to be remanded at Changi Prison for investigations, and more charges will be tendered against him.
A pre-trial conference has been set for July 23.
In response to media queries, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday: "Phey Yew Kok was facing charges of Criminal Breach of Trust when he absconded while on bail in 1980. He has now turned himself in and returned to Singapore.
"He has been charged in court, and the law will have to take its course. This will bring closure to a long outstanding case involving a person who was holding public office as an MP and a senior union leader."
PM Lee reiterated the Government's "zero tolerance for corruption" in a Facebook post referring to the case on Wednesday evening.
The National Trades Union Congress noted in a statement that Phey had surrendered himself to the authorities, and that "we must now let the law take its course".
After he was released on bail, Phey failed to turn up in Court on Jan 7, 1980, and a Warrant of Arrest was subsequently issued against him on the same day.
CPIB officers were sent to look for him at his residence, places of work and places he used to frequent. An Interpol Red Notice was issued for Phey's arrest.
Investigations later revealed that Phey had left Singapore for Kuala Lumpur by train on Dec 31, 1979. He then went to Bangkok, where he disappeared and has eluded capture till his surrender on Monday.
Phey was MP for the Boon Teck constituency from 1972 to 1980. He was appointed president of NTUC in 1970, and became NTUC chairman on May 25, 1979. The CPIB began investigating Phey in the middle of 1979.
Other than Phey, 10 others were charged for their involvement in the crimes. Nine of them were convicted, while one person was acquitted.
In a statement on Wednesday, the CPIB said Phey "will be required to assist CPIB in further investigations in relation to other offences he may have committed".