Director jailed for 9 months for graft

He had received $49,500 meant for bribing employee of his company's client

A director was jailed nine months for seeking to give $49,500 to a staff member of Louis Vuitton (LV) to help snag projects for his company, in a clear signal that private-sector graft will not be treated less seriously than public-sector corruption.

District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim, in imposing the jail term on Koh Puay Boon, said: "I must reiterate that there is no presumption that only a non-custodial sentence will be imposed for cases of private-sector corruption.

"The prevailing sentencing consideration must be that of general deterrence," she said in judgment grounds released yesterday.

Koh, 44, a director of renovation firm Artmazement Global, had been found guilty of corruptly receiving five payments from fellow director Evan Lim, although the monies were never actually paid to the LV staff member.

"The fact that they were not paid is not fatal to the prosecution's case," said the judge. "Paying an employee of your client in order to secure more business is obviously corrupt and so is the receiving of monies to do the same," she said.

The judge found that the $49,500 was meant as a bribe to the LV staff member, and when Koh received the monies, he knew it was given on that basis.

Koh had jointly set up Artmazement in 2012 with a business partner as a renovation contractor specialising in fitting out luxury boutiques. Between 2012 and 2013, it was hired by Louis Vuitton Asia-Pacific/ Louis Vuitton (Singapore) for projects valued at between $19,388 and $122,803.

Between July 2012 and March 2013, Koh received five payouts from the company's account totalling $49,500 in cheques signed by himself and Mr Lim, which Koh used for his personal expenses.

In court, Mr Lim said he understood Koh would collect the cheques, cash them and give the monies to a person in LV. Koh told him if Artmazement gave LV some money, it would get more business.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kelvin Kow argued that to sustain the charges, it needs only be proven that Koh received the monies on the basis that they were for an LV staff member as inducement to get more work.

Koh countered that he received the monies legitimately as commissions for the contracts secured from LV. But the judge found multiple inconsistencies in his evidence and statements. His claims that the payouts were commissions did not tally with the percentage figures claimed to have been agreed upon as a guide for commissions.

The judge found Koh guilty and convicted him on all five charges.

His lawyer, Mr Walter Silvester, urged the court to impose a fine and spare him jail, arguing that this was a private-sector corruption case with no public impact.

Rejecting this, the judge said several aggravating factors taken "cumulatively" had "tipped the balance" in favour of a jail term.

She said Koh had abused his position as managing director of the company instead of protecting its interests, and "corrupted Evan, the young man who was just treading the waters of managing a business". She sentenced Koh to six months' jail for each of four charges and three months for the fifth charge, ordering the terms for the first and fifth charge to run consecutively. She also ordered Koh to pay a penalty of $49,500.

Koh is currently on bail pending an appeal.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 25, 2016, with the headline 'Director jailed for 9 months for graft'. Print Edition | Subscribe