Two JTC officers convicted of conspiracy to illegally clear parts of Kranji woodland

The prosecution said Chong Pui Chih (left) and Neo Jek Lin were part of a quartet of officers from JTC and CPG Consultants who acted in gross violation of requirements. ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A former deputy director at JTC Corporation and a JTC senior project manager were convicted after admitting on Friday to being part of a conspiracy to clear part of Kranji woodland before getting approval.

The duo were working on the development of the Kranji Agri-Food Innovation Park (AFIP).

On Friday, the court heard that a total of 362 trees were cut down illegally.

Chong Pui Chih, 47, who was a deputy director at JTC Corporation, pleaded guilty to three charges under the Parks and Trees Act.

Neo Jek Lin, 44, who was a JTC senior project manager, pleaded guilty to three charges under the Parks and Trees Act and a fourth charge under the Wildlife Act.

The prosecution said they were part of a quartet of officers from JTC and CPG Consultants who acted in gross violation of requirements, causing the felling of trees without approval and without taking the necessary steps to ensure wildlife-related requirements were complied with.

The Government had announced the development of the Kranji AFIP in March 2019.

A plot of land located at Kranji Close and Kranji Road had been set aside for the development of the park.

The 18.4ha site was vacant land, which required the felling of existing trees for the planned development.

JTC was selected as the project owner and development agency for the Kranji AFIP and Neo was appointed project manager, while Chong was his direct supervisor.

Some time before Jan 13, 2021, Neo and Chong engaged in a conspiracy with co-accused Jimmy Liu Wing Tim, 63, and Tan See Chee, 64.

Liu and Tan were from CPG. Tan was appointed qualified person for the project and Liu the qualified person representative to assist him.

The four conspired to cut trees growing on the land without approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation, as they were worried the project would be delayed as it would have to satisfy various official requirements.

The incident has prompted a review of how agencies work, both internally and with each other. PHOTO: ST FILE

Under the Parks and Trees Act, cutting down any tree with a girth exceeding 1m that is growing on any vacant land is prohibited unless approval has been obtained from the Commissioner.

The 362 trees were felled illegally by contractors because of the conspiracy of the quartet, who plotted to concurrently satisfy the wildlife-related requirements.

These requirements included measures to safeguard the wildlife, public safety and health, and ecosystems.

The National Parks Board (NParks) had raised concerns that there could be an adverse impact to the environment as a result of construction activities at the site, and had detailed the requirements to mitigate this.

The prosecution said that the total number of trees that were cut without approval was “enormous by any measure”, and that the exact impact on the environment could not be calculated because the offences took place before any studies were undertaken.

The prosecution said: “The approval for them to cut the trees would have eventually been given by NParks, but the harm caused in this case is the failure to allow for proper environmental studies to be done, to ensure wildlife, flora and fauna could be properly managed.”

The prosecution is asking for a $34,000 fine for Neo and a $28,000 fine for Chong.

The unauthorised clearance came to light after aerial photos of the site showing the destruction of the woodland emerged on social media in February 2021.

A JTC spokesman had said then that the land had been “erroneously” cleared by its contractor before the completion of environmental assessments.

Remote video URL

In March 2022, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was previously minister for trade and industry, said in Parliament that the unauthorised clearance occurred between late December 2020 and Jan 13, 2021.

Neo and Chong’s cases have been adjourned to next Wednesday for sentencing.

Liu and Tan’s cases are still before the courts.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.