CPIB did not initially state Iswaran’s arrest as it wanted to establish more facts: Chan Chun Sing
The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) did not initially announce that Transport Minister S. Iswaran had been arrested as it wanted first to establish more facts of the case, including hearing his side of the story, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
CPIB had said on July 12 that Mr Iswaran was assisting with investigations into a case it had uncovered.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong took reference from CPIB’s press release on July 12 in their statements to the media that same day, Mr Chan told the House on Wednesday.
“This was the proper thing to do because ministers, including the prime minister, should not reveal more than what the law enforcement agencies are prepared to disclose,” he said, adding that while ministers do have the final decision-making power, they usually take the law enforcement agency’s advice.
Mr Chan, who is Minister-in-charge of the Public Service, noted that Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) issued a statement two days later on July 14, saying Mr Ong Beng Seng had been “given a notice of arrest” by CPIB. This prompted the media to ask CPIB about it.
“By then, investigations had been ongoing for three days and CPIB had obtained more facts,” said Mr Chan. “CPIB made the operational judgement call that it would be appropriate at that point in time to confirm that both Mr Ong and Minister Iswaran had been arrested.”
What law enforcement agencies, including CPIB, reveal at any point in time takes into account operational considerations for cases, including preserving the integrity of evidence, protecting the confidentiality of ongoing investigations, and avoiding impact on other related parties, he added.
Mr Chan also addressed other matters raised by various members of Parliament, including Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai, Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Dennis Tan (Hougang).
Q. Do all CPIB investigations require the PM’s concurrence, and is CPIB obliged to seek the PM’s concurrence to open formal investigations into potential offences that it has uncovered?
A: Mr Chan said that while CPIB reports directly to PM Lee, it is functionally independent and does not require his concurrence to conduct its investigations.
“In this case, (CPIB) kept the Prime Minister informed and sought his concurrence to initiate formal investigations of Minister Iswaran because the investigations concerned a Cabinet Minister,” he said.
In the event that the prime minister refuses to give his consent to a CPIB investigation, the Director of CPIB can go directly to the elected President for agreement to proceed with the investigation, he added.
“In reality, we have never had a Prime Minister who has impeded CPIB’s work”, Mr Chan noted.
Q. Why did Ministers K. Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan continue with their duties while being investigated by CPIB on the Ridout Road issue, while Mr Iswaran was placed on leave of absence?
A: There is a crucial difference between both cases, said Mr Chan, noting that Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan had asked for an independent investigation into their rental of state-owned colonial bungalows.
When PM Lee tasked CPIB to investigate, he had no reason to believe that the ministers had committed any wrongdoing then, and therefore saw no need to put them on leave of absence during the investigation, Mr Chan added.
“The Prime Minister could have asked the Ministers to take leave of absence should evidence have surfaced during the investigations that warranted it,” he added.
In Mr Iswaran’s case, PM Lee’s assessment was that it was necessary to suspend Mr Iswaran from his official duties while the investigation took place, Mr Chan said.