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SINGAPORE: The former project manager for a Build-to-Order (BTO) estate in Bidadari was sentenced on Friday (Apr 1) to 22 weeks’ jail for taking bribes from subcontractors who were afraid to “sour” the working relationship.

Wong Wei Chern, 39, accepted a total of S$44,000 in bribes from representatives of three construction firms between November 2016 and August 2019.

He pleaded guilty on Friday to four counts of corruption. Another nine charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

At the time, Wong was employed by Rich Construction Company, which had been awarded contracts to build 1,789 flats in the Bidadari estate by the Housing and Development Board (HDB).

As a project manager, Wong’s endorsement was required for all progress claims submitted by subcontractors, which were used to process payments.

Rich Construction Company awarded subcontracts for the Bidadari development to Nanjing Minglu Construction Engineering (NJML), Heng Sheng Construction and Engineering (HSCE) and Heng Dong Construction (HDC) in August 2016.

Wong’s co-accused are three representatives from these subcontractors who gave him bribes. They are Lu Zhibo from NJML, Hua Li from HSCE and Xu Jie from HDC.

Wong admitted to approaching these men for money as he knew they would not want to “sour” their working relationship.

This was especially since they knew the construction industry was “small” and Wong could “make things difficult” and “might create trouble” for the subcontractors, according to court documents.

CLAIMED TO PAY OFF ARCHITECT

The court heard that in April 2018, Wong approached Lu for S$10,000 as he needed money to pay off personal debts.

Wong lied to Lu that the HDB-appointed architect intended to penalise NJML for mistakes caused by its workers.

He claimed to have paid the architect’s consultant project manager S$10,000 on NJML’s behalf to resolve the issue.

Lu transferred S$5,000 to Wong’s bank account later that month.

Wong again lied to Lu in August 2018 that NJML’s workers had incorrectly cut a piece of metal, and claimed to have paid off the architect’s project manager with S$10,000.

In December 2018, Wong sent Lu a text message saying that his superiors had instructed him to deduct S$50,000 from NJML’s payment claims. This was untrue.

He claimed that NJML’s mistakes had caused Rich Construction Company to receive demerit points from HDB, and showed Lu a copy of a letter from the architect showing that HDB had approved the imposition of demerit points.

In the months that followed, Wong continued to press for payments from Lu, who transferred a total of S$24,000 to him by August 2019.

Wong similarly approached HSCE’s Hua and HDC’s Xu for money between 2017 and 2019, receiving S$7,000 and S$13,000 from them respectively.

He has since made full restitution for the payments to the three co-accused and the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau.

“HIGH QUALITY” DEVELOPMENT

Deputy Public Prosecutor Kang Jia Hui sought at least six months’ jail for Wong, arguing that he was the initiator of the entire scheme and resorted to “highly insidious means” to obtain the bribes.

She said that Wong’s offences contributed to a risk of loss of confidence in Singapore’s public administration given his role in managing a large-scale public housing project.

Wong’s defence lawyer Eric Tin asked for not more than 12 weeks’ jail for his client, arguing that the prosecution had “overstated” the risk to confidence in Singapore’s public administration.

He also said that the Bidadari BTO estate achieved a “high quality score” under Wong’s project management, and that Wong had fully cooperated with investigations.

District Judge Kamala Ponnampalam said Wong’s offences contained “veiled threats”, pressure, untruths and coercion.

She noted that the offences involved a public sector project and potentially compromised the work ethic and integrity of the subcontractors.

After delivering the sentence, she granted a two-month deferment to the start of Wong’s jail term. This stemmed from a request from Wong’s current employer as the construction sector “badly needs people”, according to Mr Tin.

Lu and Hua were previously fined S$50,000 and S$18,000 respectively, while Xu’s case is pending.