In recent years, corruption cases in Singapore have occupied local headlines with increasing frequency. This article seeks to explain what constitutes corruption under the law of Singapore and the possible legal consequences and punishments of a corruption conviction.
The offence of corruption
The offence of corruption and the consequences thereof are found in the Prevention of Corruption Act (“the PCA”). S5 of the PCA sets out the elements of the offence of corruption as follows –
- A person commits corruption where he (by himself or with someone else)
- Corruptly solicits or receives for himself or someone else, OR
- Corruptly gives, promises or offers to any person
- any gratification (for example, a gift or favour) to induce or reward, on account of
- any person doing or promising to do anything with regards an actual or proposed transaction, OR
- any member, officer or servant of a public body doing or promising to do anything with regards an actual or proposed transaction involving that public body.
S 6 of the PCA applies to situations in which it is the agent who commits corruption in respect of his principal’s affairs. Further, S 6 of the PCA also makes it an offence for a person to knowingly give an agent any materially false or erroneous document (e.g. receipts and accounts) where the person knows that the agent intends to use the defective document to deceive his principal.
Corruption punishments in Singapore
The maximum penalty for a person or agent who enters a corrupt transaction is a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both.
The maximum penalty for corruption cases involving the Government or any public body may also be enhanced to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years, or both.
Factors considered by the court in determining the appropriate sentence
The court determines an appropriate sentence based on the facts and the specific nature of the corruption in each case.
As a starting point, both public and private sector corruption may attract a sentence of imprisonment. Private sector corruption offences which register a lower level of culpability may be dealt with by the imposition of fines (i.e. offences involving a lower amount of gratification, below $30,000 and causing no real detriment to the interests of the principal). However, the starting point for sentencing for a private sector offence which involves a significant amount of gratification which was received over a lengthy period of time or a compromise of one’s duty or a serious betrayal of trust would be imprisonment.
The court then examines various factors of the case in determining the appropriate sentence to be imposed.
(a) Amount of gratification
The amount of gratification (e.g. the value of the bribe) involved is an important factor in determining the proper sentence for corruption offences. This is because the amount of gratification correlates with the harm caused by the bribe and the need to “deter the creation of corrupt business culture at the highest level of commerce”. As such, the greater the amount of gratification, the more severe the penalty to be expected.
(b) Strategic and economic importance of the industry in which the corruption occurred
The fact that the corruption occurred regarding an industry which is strategically and economically important to Singapore is considered an aggravating factor. This is because allowing corruption to take root in such industries could cause a loss of confidence in the industry and have severe economic ramifications on the country. As such, corruption involving such industries would attract heavier penalties.
(c) The role played by the offender in a corrupt transaction
The court has accepted that the level of culpability of the offender (i.e. the wrongdoing of the offender) could be dependent on the offender’s role in the corruption. For example, an offender who did not initiate corruption but merely succumbed to commercial pressure and solicitation exerted upon him by the recipient might face a less severe sentence.
(d) Whether the corrupt acts compromised the safety of innocent third parties
The fact that the corrupt acts could compromise the safety of innocent third parties has been considered an aggravating factor in support of a more severe sentence against the offender.
In cases where the corruption involves government institutions such that public confidence in government institutions are compromised, courts have considered that deterrence is a sentencing principle to be considered. This then militates in favour of a more severe penalty.
Clean and honest dealing has been held by the courts to be a key competitive advantage. As such, corruption is both a moral and economic scourge on Singaporean society and is dealt with severely in our courts.