Man cheated IMDA of more than $41,000 to benefit his own business

Jeffrey Ho Kiat was jailed four months after he pleaded guilty to three cheating charges. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Unsure if his contract at the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) would be renewed, a principal consultant there set up a business.

But he used the company while he was still with IMDA to receive jobs from the statutory board without telling his employer of his vested interest.

On Wednesday (Aug 24), Jeffrey Ho Kiat, 56, was jailed for four months after he pleaded guilty to three cheating charges.

Four other charges were taken into consideration during his sentencing . He was given a discharge amounting to an acquittal for five other charges.

Ho cheated IMDA of more than $41,000 together with his accomplice - his former secretary Ng Sok Luan, who he became acquainted with in 2006 during one of his previous roles in the public service. 

Ng, 44, was sentenced to two months' jail last month.

On Wednesday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Grace Lim said the pair developed an intimate relationship and that Ng continued to work with Ho until Oct 31, 2016.

In her written sentencing submissions for Ho, DPP Lim added that the pair abused the position of trust that Ho was placed in by virtue of his role at IMDA.

She said: "Given that he was an expert in the area of design, his IMDA colleagues had trusted him to provide recommendations for suitable vendors who could carry out the required work.

"Instead, Jeffrey abused this trust by directing the work to his own companies."

DPP Lim told the court that Ho was seconded to IMDA some time after November 2016, and joined officially a year later on a contract basis.

In April 2017, he set up Goldentree Innovations with Ng as he wanted to set up a sustainable business if his IMDA contract was not renewed.

Ng's brother-in-law Low Kian Tong was registered as director and shareholder of the company, while Ng and Ho provided start-up capital for it.

DPP Lim said Ho and Ng, who was with the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) then, were aware that they were required to declare their interest in Goldentree to their respective employers.

But they did not do so.

In March 2018, Ng and Ho set up Creative Futures Agency (CFA). Ng again got Mr Low to be registered as its director, and Ng took over in July 2018. Ho was again aware of his need to declare this interest but did not.

When Ho was asked to work on various projects with IMDA, including one for the Punggol Digital District, the companies he recommended included CFA, Goldentree and another company called Zelkova Serrata (S).

Two of the jobs were awarded to Zelkova on April 17 and Aug 20, 2018, and one was awarded to CFA in November that year.

Ho informed Ng that a director of Zelkova would assist in providing supporting quotations and invoices for a few IMDA projects. Based on his instructions, she prepared quotations and sent them to the director for his submission to IMDA.

While Zelkova was awarded the job, the actual work was carried out by Goldentree.

IMDA paid Zelkova $5,965 on July 10, 2018, and $5,985 on Oct 5, 2018. It paid CFA $5,990 some time after November 2018.

Ng made restitution to IMDA on April 14 this year, and Ho on May 11 this year.

In their written mitigation, Ho's lawyers Paul Loy and Samuel Navindran from Wong Partnership said Ho had been worried about his financial situation and was anxious when he was asked to leave a position with MCI in 2016.

They said Ho, who was then 50, was the primary breadwinner for his wife, a part-time lecturer, and three children.

The lawyers also said he "had a long and storied career in Singapore's design industry" and listed Ho's previous contributions, including being the founding director of the School of Design at Singapore Polytechnic and successfully leading the push and application for Singapore to be appointed a Unesco Creative City of Design.

Ho was suspended from the IMDA pending the conclusion of court proceedings against him. He is no longer employed by the agency, said an IMDA spokesman in response to queries from The Straits Times. 

The spokesman added: “IMDA requires all staff to perform their duty with the highest level of integrity and professionalism and to ensure that good financial accountability and governance is upheld.”

Ho could have been jailed for up to three years, fined, or both for each cheating charge he faced.

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