Singapore transport minister resigns over corruption charges

By AFP   January 17, 2024 | 08:02 pm PT
Singapore transport minister resigns over corruption charges
Part of Singapore. Photo by Unsplash
Singapore's prime minister announced on Thursday the resignation of his transport chief after he was charged with 27 offenses in a corruption probe that has also ensnared a billionaire hotel tycoon.

Transport Minister S. Iswaran was arrested in July of 2023 and released on bail in connection with a rare top-level graft investigation in the city-state.

Iswaran, 61, said he would plead not guilty to the charges filed by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau when he appeared in court on Thursday.

An AFP reporter saw Iswaran leave the court with his lawyers after his appearance.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed shortly after the hearing that Iswaran had submitted his resignation from the government, parliament and ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on Jan. 16 after being given formal notice of the charges against him.

Iswaran has also pledged to return the money received as part of his salary and allowances since his arrest, Lee said.

"I reject the allegations in the charges and will now focus on clearing my name," Iswaran wrote in his resignation letter, which was published on the website of the prime minister's office.

Most of the charges against Iswaran relate to corruption, but he also faces one charge of obstruction of justice.

Among the accusations, Iswaran allegedly accepted tickets to high-profile sporting events from hotel tycoon Ong Beng Seng, one of Singapore's richest people.

Ong was arrested the same day as Iswaran in 2023 and also released on bail.

The graft investigation has gripped Singapore, a global financial hub reputed to be among the least corrupt countries in the world.

Cabinet ministers are paid salaries comparable to the top earners in the private sector to deter corruption.

Lee previously admitted that his long-ruling PAP had "taken a hit" after a spate of political scandals.

In addition to Iswaran's arrest last year, two PAP legislators resigned because of an affair.

Before that, two heavyweight cabinet members were investigated for allegedly getting favors in their rental of sprawling colonial-era bungalows, but were subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing.

Lee has faced criticism over an alleged lack of transparency in how the government handled the scandals, as well as questions over whether the standards set by the party's founding leaders have been eroded.

The scandals come as the party -- which has ruled uninterrupted for 64 years -- bounced back from its worst ever election results in 2020, when its share of the popular vote fell and the opposition gained more seats.

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