Singapore’s transport minister S. Iswaran resigned after being charged with 27 offenses in a graft investigation, its anti-corruption agency said Thursday, a rare political scandal in a city-state famous for its squeaky clean image.
The government minister allegedly took bribes worth nearly $286,000 from a Singapore-based Malaysian property tycoon, which included a ride on a private jet, and tickets to the musical Hamilton and soccer matches in Britain.
Iswaran is accused of taking bribes in exchange for helping Ong Beng Seng – a billionaire who brought the Formula 1 race to Singapore – to advance his business interests. The two were first arrested in July last year.
Iswaran, who is currently on bail, pleaded not guilty on Thursday. In a resignation letter published by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s office, the minister said that he rejected the allegations and would focus on clearing his name.
Singapore’s biggest graft scandal in nearly four decades could dent its clean reputation
Such a high-level corruption probe is rare for the Southeast Asian nation, which prides itself on having a reputation for clean governance. To discourage the temptation to accept bribes, Singapore pays its government ministers more than $800,000 a year on average, according to CNN — among the highest ministerial salaries in the world. The last time the city-state faced a similar scandal was in 1986 when Teh Cheang Wan, then Minister for National Development, was investigated for accepting more than $746,000 in bribes from two private companies looking to buy state land for development. Teh, who denied the allegations, died before being formally charged. One Singapore-based law professor told Bloomberg that the current legal fight carries broader ramifications. “There is now a political battle for the government to renew trust and confidence to the voters that they have an upright system,” he added.
Other scandals have tarnished the ruling party’s reputation ahead of next year’s elections
The investigation is the latest incident to rock the reputation of the governing People’s Action Party (PAP) ahead of elections next year. Last July, the speaker of Singapore’s parliament, along with another lawmaker, resigned from the state legislature over an extramarital affair. It came after two other ministers’ rental of state-owned luxury bungalows sparked a public outcry over income inequality and ministerial privilege, amid rising costs of living – although the ministers were later cleared of any wrongdoing. The PAP’s popularity has declined in recent elections amid criticism over its “decades-long, one-party dominance,” The New York Times reported. Though Prime Minister Lee is set to step down at the end of the year and hand the reins to his deputy, voters will have a say on the party’s record in next year’s vote.