Over 4 years' jail for former NLB manager over graft offences involving nearly $600,000

Ivan Koh Siong Wee (left) was sentenced to four years and four months' jail, and ordered to pay a penalty of $229,000. Company director Low Pok Woen, who had given the bribes, was jailed for four years.
Ivan Koh Siong Wee (left) was sentenced to four years and four months' jail, and ordered to pay a penalty of $229,000. Company director Low Pok Woen, who had given the bribes, was jailed for four years.PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A former manager of a National Library Board (NLB) department was sentenced on Thursday (April 29) to four years and four months' jail for corruption offences that involved nearly $600,000.

The court heard that the amount of bribes was one of the largest linked to the public sector.

Ivan Koh Siong Wee, 51, who worked in the department set up to spearhead NLB's move into e-books and other digital resources, was also ordered to pay a penalty of $229,000.

His friend, company director Low Pok Woen, 52, who had given the bribes in exchange for advancing his business interests with NLB, was sentenced to four years' jail.

The two Singaporeans, who committed the offences between 2005 and 2009, pleaded guilty to 20 counts of corruption involving nearly $500,000.

Another 36 similar charges for the remaining amount were taken into consideration during sentencing.

Besides working as a manager at NLB's Digital Resource Services Department, Koh headed a company known as Speedcuts, which provided hair-cutting services. Low was one of its employees between 2001 and 2005.

The court heard that some time around 2004 or 2005, there was a "strategic move" within NLB towards digitalisation, which refers to the "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 could then be accessed online by NLB members. NLB's Digital Resource Services Department was formed because of this move.

Koh 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 for 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.

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 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 court heard that Koh has since returned cash totalling more than $352,000 to Low.

The two men were each offered bail of $80,000 on Thursday, and ordered to surrender themselves at the State Courts on May 14 to begin their jail terms.

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