The Singapore Prime Minister's Office said that Transport Minister S. Iswaran resigned on Thursday after being accused of corruption, underscoring a historic development for a city-state that prides itself on having a squeaky-clean government.
The charges against Iswaran are part of the largest corruption investigation involving Singapore's ruling People's Action Party in decades. The scandal that He also fell into the trap of a hotel tycoon Best known for bringing the Formula 1 Grand Prix to the city, it was one of a series of controversies over the government in the past year that sent shockwaves through the country.
Iswaran is the first minister in the country to be charged with a criminal offence.
Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Feng said in court on Thursday that Iswaran, whose political career spanned nearly 30 years, faces 27 charges, including corruption and obstruction of justice.
According to the indictments seen by CNN, these charges included allegations that he received a gift from Malaysian billionaire Ong Peng Seng, more than 160,000 Singapore dollars ($119,000) in bribes in exchange for promoting his business interests. These gifts allegedly included business class flights, luxury hotel stays, and tickets to Formula 1 Grand Prix races, English Premier League matches and West End musicals.
The former minister was flanked by his legal team in court on Thursday morning and pleaded not guilty. He is currently on bail.
In a statement sent to CNN, Iswaran said that he rejects the accusations and allegations against him. “I have resigned as a Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament and Member of the People's Action Party because I believe it is the right thing to do,” the statement read.
“The past months have been very difficult for me and my family,” Iswaran added. “I am innocent and will now focus on clearing my name.”
Iswaran was arrested alongside hotel tycoon Ong in July. Ong is also the sole shareholder of the Singapore Grand Prix, organizer of the prominent sporting event. As Singapore's Transport Minister, Iswaran served as an advisor to the Grand Prix Steering Committee.
Singapore has long had a reputation for clean governance, and is currently ranked fifth in the world in Transparency International's annual rankings Corruption Perceptions Index.
Corruption investigations involving ministers are rare in the country where officials are well paid to discourage corruption. Average annual salary of ministers It is worth about S$1.1 million (about $834,000), according to the government.
The last corruption case involving a Singaporean minister was in 1986.
Teh Chiang Wan, who served as Minister of National Development and was known for proposing a ban on chewing gum sales in Singapore, was investigated for accepting bribes from private companies. Although he insisted on his innocence, he died before being charged.
Singapore's anti-corruption agency, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, which reports directly to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is leading the investigation into Iswaran's case.
Lee said in a statement on Thursday that he accepted the resignation of Iswaran, who agreed to return the government salary he had received since the investigation began last July.
“The government has handled this issue strictly in accordance with the law, and will continue to do so. I am determined to uphold the integrity of the Party and the government and our reputation for honesty and incorruption,” Li said in the statement.
Lee is the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister and founding father.
The corruption investigation into Ong and Iswaran comes at a sensitive time for me, as he plans to step down after nearly 20 years leading the country. Singapore is scheduled to hold its next round of general elections in 2025.
“This case has really hurt the PAP government (which) will have to redouble its efforts to rebuild the confidence of Singaporeans,” Eugene Tan, a former appointed member of Singapore's parliament and an adjunct law professor at Singapore Management University, told CNN. .
“What works in its favor is that the government is acting decisively and taking a hit because one of its own members claims to be far below the standards of public life expected of him.”
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