Singapore PM Lee bars Indian-origin minister from duty, slashes his pay amid graft probe

Singapore, Aug 2: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday barred Indian-origin Transport minister S Iswaran from duty and slashed his salary after he was arrested last month in relation to a corruption probe.
Lee was speaking in Parliament on a recent spate of scandals that has rocked Singapore, a country otherwise known for its corruption-free and stable politics.
He spoke on the ongoing corruption probe involving 61-year-old Iswaran and the resignations of two Members of Parliament (MPs), former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and Cheng Li Hui, over their extramarital affair.
Iswaran’s pay was cut to USD 6,300 per month until further notice, Lee said.
According to the Public Service Division, as of 2023, the benchmark level of a minister’s monthly salary stands at USD 41,000, working out to an annual salary of USD 820,000.
Iswaran was arrested by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on July 11. He is out on bail and has been placed on a leave of absence.
CPIB’s probe into Iswaran also involves billionaire Ong Beng Seng, the man widely credited with bringing Formula-1 racing to Singapore.
“Given that such incidents involving ministers are rare, there is no rule or precedent on how to effect an interdiction on a political office holder,” Lee said in Parliament.
“The specific details in Minister Iswaran’s case follow generally how the civil service would deal with a senior officer in a similar situation.
“But this was my decision as Prime Minister because the political contexts for a minister and a civil servant being investigated and interdicted are different” he was quoted as saying by Channel News Asia.
Briefly running through the facts of the case, Lee said that while investigating a “separate matter”, CPIB came across some information concerning Minister Iswaran that “merited investigation”.
Lee was briefed on the findings by the director of CPIB on Jul 5.
“He told me that CPIB would need to interview Minister Iswaran to take the investigation further, and sought my concurrence to open a formal investigation,” said Lee, who gave his concurrence the next day.
Iswaran was brought in by CPIB on July 11, and subsequently released on bail. Lee said that CPIB investigations are still ongoing and that he is unable to provide more details on the case, so as not to prejudice the investigations in any way.
“I ask members of this House and the public to refrain from speculation and conjecture. We must allow CPIB to do its work, to investigate the matter fully, thoroughly and independently,” he said.
When the investigation is completed, CPIB will submit its findings to the Attorney-General’s Chambers, which will decide what to do, he added.
“Whichever way the facts come out, the case will be taken to its logical conclusion. That has always been our way,” said Lee.
More than 10 MPs had filed questions on matters related to the probe by the CPIB.
Lee said that in hindsight, after learning of an extramarital affair between former lawmakers Tan and Cheng, he should have “forced the issue earlier” rather than place “perhaps too much” weight on protecting their families.
“By giving the matter some time, I had hoped to give them a softer exit, and save them and their families the pain and embarrassment that they are suffering now,” Lee said during a ministerial statement in Parliament.
“Regrettably, in the end, Tan and Cheng did not stop the affair, and both had to go,” the report quoted Lee as saying. (PTI)