High Court: Those convicted of bribing foreign public officials should expect jail time

Sharon Rachael Gursharan Kaur was sentenced to 33 months' jail by a district court last year after she pleaded guilty to three corruption charges and one charge of using the benefits of her criminal conduct to acquire property.
Sharon Rachael Gursharan Kaur was sentenced to 33 months' jail by a district court last year after she pleaded guilty to three corruption charges and one charge of using the benefits of her criminal conduct to acquire property.PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

SINGAPORE - Corruption of foreign public officials is an aggravating factor in sentencing, and offenders who offer bribes to people working for a foreign government should expect to face jail time as a starting point.

A High Court judge said this on Friday (Sept 6) as she increased the jail term, from 33 months to 40 months, imposed on Sharon Rachael Gursharan Kaur, the Singaporean woman involved in the largest bribery and fraud conspiracy in the history of the United States Navy.

Kaur is out on bail of $70,000 after her lawyer indicated that she may want to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, to make a definitive ruling on the legal issues.

A lead contract specialist employed by the US Navy, Kaur received more than $130,000 in cash and luxury vacations for leaking confidential information to defence contractor Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian known as "Fat Leonard".

Over a decade, Francis bribed US Navy personnel with millions in cash, sex with prostitutes and lavish hotel stays so that they would feed him inside information.

This enabled his company, Singapore-incorporated Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), to secure lucrative contracts and overcharge for goods and services, defrauding the US Navy of about US$35 million (S$48 million).

Investigations into the scandal resulted in the conviction of several senior US Navy officers, including a Rear-Admiral. Francis pleaded guilty in the US in 2015 and is awaiting sentencing.

On the part of Kaur, who was based in Singapore, the inside information she leaked was linked to 16 US Navy contracts. Of these, GDMA bid for 14, and was awarded 11 contracts worth a total of about US$48 million.

 

Last year, she was sentenced to 33 months' jail by a district court after she pleaded guilty to three corruption charges and one charge of using the benefits of her criminal conduct to acquire property.

In February, Deputy Public Prosecutor Jiang Ke-Yue appealed for a longer jail term.

The appeal arguments centred on whether a sentencing principle, known as the "public service rationale", should extend to a corruption case where the recipient or intended recipient of a bribe is a foreign public official.

The rationale is that cases of corruption are aggravated when they jeopardise the integrity of public service, and the sentencing outcome for public sector corruption is typically a custodial term.

In her written judgment, Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said the corruption of foreign public officials should be recognised as an aggravating factor, but one that is distinct from the public service rationale.

The judge said such cases threaten Singapore's international reputation for incorruptibility and run contrary to Singapore's obligations and efforts to combat transnational corruption.

Kaur's lawyer Suresh Damodara argued that she was merely a civilian employee of the US Navy, and thus not a public official, public officer or a public servant.

But Justice Hoo said Kaur's case fell within this category of aggravated cases.

The judge noted that the definition of "foreign public official" within the United Nations Convention Against Corruption includes a person exercising a public function for a foreign country.

She added: "The nub of the foreign public sector corruption should be the involvement of a person in the employment of a foreign government. It does not matter if the person is a civilian employee as opposed to one in the uniformed service."

Justice Hoo said Kaur's original sentence was manifestly inadequate, considering the aggravating feature. She also noted that Kaur had actively solicited bribes from Francis on two occasions.

The judgment also dealt with the case of Michael Tan Kok Ming, the owner of an oil trading company who gave $10,000 to an intermediary for officers of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency to detain a competitor's vessel.

Tan's sentence of four months' jail was not disturbed.