Ex-SCDF chief sex-for-contracts case (2012)

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The New Paper's front page on 7 June 2012. Photo from China Daily.

On 4 January 2012, a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) Chief was arrested by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and placed under investigation for corruption.[1] The accused, Peter Lim Sin Pang was charged with 10 counts of corruption for allegedly obtaining sexual gratification from three women on separate occasions between May 2010 and November 2011 in return for business opportunities with the SCDF.[2] This case was one of the three high-profile sex and corruption scandals that occurred in Singapore in 2012.

Background

Peter Lim’s charges

In June 2012, Peter Lim was charged with 10 counts of corruption for allegedly obtaining sexual gratification from three women between May 2010 and November 2011. In return, he showed favour to the companies where the women worked in terms of securing tenders with the SCDF.[3] Peter Lim was directly involved in approving contracts with external vendors.[4]


The three women involved in the case worked for the National Computer Systems (NCS), Singapore Radiation Centre (SRC) and Nimrod Engineering. Both NCS and Nimrod Engineering were existing vendors that provided products and services to the SCDF while the SRC was described as a potential vendor.[5]

Peter Lim & Pang Chor Mui (Nimrod Engineering)

The prosecution proceeded on only one out of the 10 corruption charges tendered against Lim. The charge involved Peter Lim and Pang Chor Mui from Nimrod Engineering.[6] The other nine charges were stood down. However, they were not withdrawn and could still be taken into consideration during the trial.[7]

SCDF’s Radiation Portal Monitors (RPMs) tender

The following court trials revolved around a open tender document that SCDF had put out on 6 April 2011 which called for bids to supply them with RPMs.[8] RPMs are walk-through devices that are used to detect radioactive sources and look similar to metal detectors.[9]

Parties involved

Peter Benedict Lim Sin Pang

Peter Lim was the SCDF Commissioner caught in a high profile sex-for-contracts case in 2012. Photo from The Straits Times.

Peter Lim was a recipient of the prestigious PSC-Carl Duisberg Gesellschaft scholarship and earned his Diplom-Ingenieur engineering degree from the University of Applied Science in Hamburg in 1986.[10] He joined the SCDF in 1987 as an engineering service officer and rose through the ranks. He held the following posts throughout his career: Senior Civil Defence Officer, Director of Civil Defence Academy, Assistant Commissioner (general staff) as well as Deputy Commissioner.[11]


In 2002, Peter Lim received the Public Administration Medal (Silver) for his service. Peter Lim spent 24 years with the SCDF before he was promoted to the commissioner in 2009.[12] In October 2011, he supervised SCDF operations on Pulau Bukom after a Shell refinery blaze that took about 32 hours to be put out.[13]


Peter Lim is married and has a daughter.[14] Since his arrest, Peter Lim was removed from his post and placed on leave from his duties.[15]

Pang Chor Mui

Pang Chor Mui was the woman involved in the sex-for-contracts trial. Photo from SM Ong.

Pang Chor Mui was a General Manager at Nimrod Engineering. She was in her 40s and at that time, a divorcee with a teenage son.[16][17] She joined Nimrod Engineering in 2006 as a Sales Manager and had been promoted to General Manager after three years.[18] Pang Chor Mui was described as a “personal friend” to Peter Lim having known him for years.[19]

Esther Goh Tok Mui

Esther Goh was the former Director of Business Development for the National Computer Systems (NCS). She was unmarried and at the time of the case, was no longer with NCS.[20]

Lee Wei Hoon

Lee Wei Hoon was a Director at the Singapore Radiation Centre (SRC). She was in her 40s and  married. At the time of the case, she was still working for SRC.[21]

First trial (February 2013)

Peter Lim denied all allegations of corruption and claimed trial. He was represented by lawyers Hamidul Haq, K. Bala Chandran and Michelle Lee from Rajah & Tann.[22][23]


Peter Lim’s trial began on 18 February 2013 and was presided by District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim.[24][25] The prosecution team was made up of Deputy Public Prosecutors (DPPs) Tan Kiat Pheng, Hon Yi and Sherlyn Neo.[26] In total, 11 witnesses were called from Nimrod Engineering and the SCDF for the trial.[27]

Insider knowledge of RPM tender (Prosecution)

Pang's colleague, Tan Peng Leng was one of the witnesses for the trial. Photo from AsiaOne.

The prosecution claimed that Nimrod Engineering had known about the SCDF’s RPM tender from Peter Lim before it was made public.[28] It was revealed that Pang Chor Mui had instructed her business development manager Tan Peng Leng to source for RPM suppliers sometime before 18 March 2011 - at least three weeks before the tender was made public. Moreover, Nimrod Engineering did not supply such machines at the time.[29] The prosecution also alleged that Nimrod Engineering had scrambled to submit their application. They identified that Nimrod Engineering could have only met the deadline because of insider-information on the tender.[30]


Peter Lim's defense countered saying that Pang Chor Mui did not provide any technical specifications such as budget, model numbers or pricing to her colleague. Such information was only revealed after the SCDF had made the tender public. Furthermore, Pang Chor Mui’s request for RPM suppliers came at an appropriate time. The 2011 Japan earthquake had led to worries about radiation leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant.[31]


The defense also pointed out that Nimrod Engineering’s application was ready five days before the deadline, thus indicating that it was not a last-minute rush. A Sales Manager from Nimrod Engineering revealed the firm was waiting for extra information from its United States-based supplier before submitting its application an hour before the deadline.[32]

Unusual open tender (Prosecution)

The prosecution pointed out that it was unusual for Peter Lim to opt for an open tender instead of a close tender. A close tender limited the vendor options to SCDF’s existing supplier, Secom.[33] As such, the prosecution believed that this change in tender specifically allowed Nimrod Engineering to take part in the bid.[34]


However, a witness from the SCDF explained that open tenders were “the norm” and beneficial for the SCDF. Open tenders ensured that the SCDF received the fairest price for what they needed. Hence, it was not unusual that Peter Lim opted for an open tender as Secom’s prices were steep.[35]

Failure to declare a conflict of interest (Prosecution)

The prosecution argued that as Nimrod Engineering was an existing vendor to SCDF at the time of the offence, they had reason to believe that Peter Lim knew of Pang Chor Mui’s position. Peter Lim would have known that Pang “would give in to his request for oral sex so as not to jeopardise her company’s business relations with the SCDF”.[36] They noted that Peter Lim should have declared a conflict of interest and excused himself as one of the approving authorities in the procurement process.[37]

Peter Lim & Pang Chor Mui’s relationship (Defense)

The defense argued that “Lim and Pang shared a genuine friendship, and that the intimacy between them arose from a flirtatious relationship that involved much teasing and banter”.[38] They also pointed out that Peter Lim and Pang Chor Mui’s tryst was 11 months before the Japan earthquake. Hence, they believed that Peter Lim “could not have orchestrated the 2011 tender for radiation detectors to favour the employer of his lover when they had the tryst in 2010”.[39]

Second trial (March 2013)

Pang Chor Mui’s court testimony

Pang Chor Mui leaving court after her first day standing in court as a witness. Photo from Yahoo!.

Pang Chor Mui took the stand on 19 March 2013. In court, Pang disclosed the nature of her relationship with Peter Lim, maintaining throughout the cross-examination that she “liked him alot”.[40]


The two had first met in 1996 during a work trip in Norway. They spoke sporadically and even lost touch for a few years. They reconnected in 2009 when Pang congratulated Lim for his promotion as the Commissioner of SCDF. They often exchanged “teasing messages” throughout their relationship as she had found him “straight-laced” and wanted to “ruffle his feathers”.[41]


Pang described the tryst as a spontaneous event that developed when she had driven him home. Upon reaching his condo, Lim suggested a “chit chat” in another area so that the car would not be blocking the condominium’s entrance. After driving to another area, Pang and Lim got intimate where “(they) started kissing and hugging and touching and finally, (she) performed the oral sex on him”. Pang admitted that Lim had unzipped his trousers on his own volition and she had not asked him to do so. She also described the oral sex as something that had “happened very quickly and ended very quickly” as they realised that they were in a public place. This incident marked the last time the pair met up in person although they continued exchanging text messages once every two months.[42]


Addressing the RPM tender, Pang revealed that Lim had texted her after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident, asking if Nimrod carried walk-through RPMs. She replied that Nimrod did not carry RPMs but offered to help him source for suppliers. She later forwarded the information to Peter Lim but no further action was taken.[43]

Pang Chor Mui's contradictory statements (Prosecution)

According to the prosecution, Pang’s testimony in court contradicted her statements to CPIB made in January 2013. For example, she admitted in her CPIB statements that she performed oral sex because she “feared antagonising Lim and jeopardising her company’s dealings with the SCDF”. However, in court, she said she “was not pressured into their one-time sexual encounter”.[44]

Other contradictions included:[45]

  • Who had chosen the Stadium Walk location for the May 2010 tryst
  • Whether she had made a conscious effort to stay away from Lim after the encounter
  • The nature of their text messages
  • Whether Lim had told her about SCDF’s urgent need for radiation portal monitors in March 2011
  • If she told Lim how to get more information about her company’s products
  • If she had decided the pricing for an SCDF contract that Nimrod won in January 2010

Pang admitted that the CPIB statements were possibly more accurate as “(she) probably had fresher memory then”.[46][47]

Pang Chor Mui & Tamil Selvan’s relationship (Prosecution)

In this second trial, the prosecution focused on Pang Chor Mui’s relationship with her former boss at Nimrod Engineering, Tamil Selvan. Pang described her non-sexual relationship with Selvan as an “intimate friendship” where they “cared for each other and supported each other” through their bad times.[48] She had known him since 1996 but the two grew closer in 2005, a year before she joined Nimrod Engineering.[49]


DPP Neo argued that this put Pang in an “even more elevated position where she would… definitely want to protect Nimrod’s business interests”. The prosecution saw Pang’s intimate relationship with her boss as a motive for her actions seeing that her year-end bonus was tied to the tender.[50]

Insider knowledge (Prosecution)

Additionally, the prosecution showed that Nimrod Engineering had been able to meet the deadline of the tender because Lim gave Pang word in advance as he was still “beholden” to Pang after their tryst in 2010.[51]


The prosecution also argued that it would have been impossible for Nimrod Engineering to meet the 3 May 2011 deadline without “insider-information” given that the firm decided to go for the bid on 20 April 2011. The court heard that it took at least 20 days for Pang’s staff to complete the proposal but there were only 14 days between 20 April and 3 May.[52] This further contradicted an earlier witness claim that the proposal had been ready 5 days before the deadline.[53]

Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act

The district judge agreed that the prosecution had presented enough evidence to show that Peter Lim had corrupt intent when he obtained oral sex from Pang Chor Mui.[54]


Under Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, Peter Lim was assumed to be corrupt as long as he had received favours from Pang. The judge dismissed the defense’s case that the oral sex had “occurred in a moment of genuine passion” and that Lim “had no intention of showing favour” to Pang’s company. With this, Lim took the stand to defend himself against the charge.[55]

Peter Lim’s court testimony (March 2013)

Peter Lim (centre) and his lawyers Hamidul Haq & K. Bala Chandran from Rajah & Tann. Photo from Yahoo!

Pang Chor Mui's sexual advances

Lim alleged that Pang often made sexual advances towards him. She would apparently send him suggestive text messages about her sexual fantasies.[56]


In his court testimony, Lim described how during one lunch (out of the four that they shared), Pang told him that she was “not wearing anything” under her outfit and later pressed her body against his saying that she wanted to have sex with him.[57] In his words, Lim told the court that he was “confused” and “not ready to be intimate with her”. However, he did not want to reject her because “she was a close friend”.[58]


Lim also described their tryst in 2010 as “spontaneous and unexpected” as he only had the intention to chat with Pang. Lim’s account alleged that Pang had initiated the intimate behaviour. He claimed that Pang was the one who asked him to unzip his pants and he did not ask her to perform the oral sex. Finally, Lim noted that they decided to stop because “(he) was not aroused”.[59]

Peter Lim's contradictory statements

The prosecution listed nine discrepancies between Lim’s testimony that conflicted with his CPIB statements. Some of them included:[60]

  • That he had planned of having sex with Pang and viewed the night of the sexual encounter as an “opportunity”
  • Instead of directing her to his home, “(he) directed her to drive to the open air carpark at National stadium” to have sex with her
  • He directly asked her if she wanted to have sex with him
  • They were “not friends per se”
  • Admitted that occasionally, Pang would make a casual remark that the SCDF could call her if it required anything that Nimrod Engineering can supply
  • They gave up oral sex because they felt guilty about it
  • He played along with her suggestive messages

Verdict (May 2013)

On 31 May 2013, District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim found Peter Lim guilty of corruption. She listed out several “glaring inconsistencies” between Lim’s statements to the CPIB to that in court. Particularly, the judge found that Lim had embellished his account on the stand by saying that Pang had seduced him, in turn damaging her reputation.[61] In District Judge Hamidah Ibrahim’s words:

“If I were to accept his explanations, it would appear as if Lim was practically like a lamb led to the slaughter by Pang and he was so magnanimous when he made the supreme sacrifice by allowing a woman, whom he was never physically attracted to, to give fellatio. If he did not desire oral sex from her, all he had to do was not unzip his pants when she made the request, and that would have ended the encounter, or rather his ordeal, if one was to believe his version.”[62]

Sentence hearing (June 2013)

Admittance of seven other charges

Before his sentence hearing, Peter Lim consented to the seven charges involving the two other women, Esther Goh and Lee Wei Hoon, to be taken into consideration during sentencing.[63]


Peter Lim admitted that he had received oral sex from Lee Wei Hoon at a carpark at Big Splash East Coast park on 23 November 2011. He also admitted to corruptly receiving sexual intercourse with Esther Goh on six separate occasions between May and November 2011. He had committed these offences at places like a carpark near the Singapore Indoor Stadium and a flat in Clementi.[64]

Sentence

On 14 June 2013, Peter Lim was sentenced to 6 months’ jail. The district judge emphasised repeatedly that Lim’s corrupt behaviour was unbecoming of the highest-ranking officer in the SCDF and his actions were “an embarrassment to the public service”.[65]


Following the sentence, he was officially dismissed from public service.[66] Lim started serving his sentence on 26 June 2013.[67] On 27 September, it was reported that Lim was let out of Changi Prison and placed on home detention to serve the rest of his jail term.[68] He was granted an early release from his jail-term and released on 26 October 2013.[69]

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