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The Singapore Law Gazette

The Law on Corruption in Singapore: Cases and Materials (2nd Edition)

by Tan Boon Gin

The back cover of The Law on Corruption in Singapore: Cases and Materials (2nd Edition) by Tan Boon Gin describes the book as one “written for both lawyers and lay persons”. My first port of call was the Contents which immediately appealed to me as a lawyer, because Boon Gin has neatly dissected the law in a manner that defines and addresses the various elements in the “paradigm of corruption”. A layperson will find the book equally engaging, as unlike a legal textbook, Boon Gin’s topical and practical approach allows a reader to easily understand how the law relating to corruption is likely to be applied, not just in the public sector, but also in the private sector.

The book provides a comprehensive take on the law of corruption in Singapore, and sets itself apart from the average academic resource by remaining accessible to the layperson while also retaining the detail and nuance required for it to be a useful aid to legal practitioners.

The book is organised into 10 chapters. The early chapters of the book deal with the “two-step test” required to establish a charge of corruption, viz. a “corrupt element” in the transaction under scrutiny and the “guilty knowledge” of the accused in participating in the transaction. These chapters lay a strong foundation for readers’ understanding of the law of corruption, providing an insight into the well-worn underpinnings of the above-mentioned two-step test, while also traversing new judgements, such as the Honourable Chief Justice’s analysis of three primary factual matrices in corruption cases in Public Prosecutor v Syed Mostafa Romel [2015] 3 SLR 1166 (Romel).

The extent of the purview and reach of section 5 of the PCA is a question which practitioners would likely have grappled with over the years. As Boon Gin explains at Chapter 3 of the book, while section 6 of the PCA is restricted to the corruption paradigm (i.e. a situation involving three parties i.e. the briber, the recipient of the bribe and the person to whom the recipient of the bribe owes a duty), section 5 of the PCA is not.

Section 5 of the PCA has also been utilised to prosecute offences which did not strictly involve a perversion of the course of justice. For example, Boon Gin highlights that for a number of years, marriages of convenience (sometimes known as “sham” marriages, in which a foreigner would pay a sum to a local who would in return enter into a marriage with the foreigner, allowing the foreigner to circumvent immigration restrictions) were prosecuted under section 5 of the PCA. This was eventually rectified by the enacting of a new offence in section 57C of the Immigration Act, which targeted marriages of convenience specifically. Boon Gin rightly observes that this delineation could assuage practitioners’ and accused persons’ concerns that statements taken under section 27 of the PCA (which legally obliges an accused questioned under the PCA to give the information required of him) could be improperly used to prosecute offences outside of the purview of the PCA.

On the other hand, Boon Gin also helpfully notes that section 5 of the PCA is valuable to prevent the circumvention of corruption offences through the use of middlemen. The newer High Court cases of Song Meng Choon Andrew v Public Prosecutor [2015] 4 SLR 1090 and Public Prosecutor v Tan Kok Ming Michael and other appeals [2019] 5 SLR 926 show that the appropriate charge for ‘middleman’ situations (e.g. where the accused corruptly transacts with a private individual, who in turn bribes a public servant) is one under section 5 of the PCA, since they do not fall squarely within the purview of section 6 of the PCA.

The second half of the book deals with more discrete areas of the law pertaining to corruption, inter alia the interpretation of statutorily-derived phrases like “corruptly receiving” or “any gratification as an inducement or reward“, the operation of various statutory presumptions in the PCA, issues relating to statements made to and recorded by CPIB officers under the PCA, and matters of procedure such as witnesses requiring special consideration, and other notable supplementary provisions in the PCA.

While the earlier chapters of the book are valuable to lay persons and practitioners alike, the later chapters are of especial value to practitioners. In particular, practitioners new to the area of white collar crime will find the broad yet succinct survey of the case authorities defining various statutorily-derived phrases an extremely valuable resource. This is especially because the correct legal interpretation of these phrases may not always come naturally to a young practitioner. For example, the offence of “corruptly receiving” gratification, as Boon Gin points out, is complete once the reward is received with corrupt intent – there is no need that the underlying transaction which actually makes the reward corrupt to subsequently be carried out.

Boon Gin provides his commentary by way of “Notes” sections throughout the book, penning his thoughts as to the implications the various case and statute extracts he has thoughtfully selected for exhibition in his book. While Boon Gin’s Notes are helpful in that they quickly bring to the attention of the reader the key and salient points of the case or statute selected, it must be noted that practitioners may be better assisted by more in-depth analyses at certain junctures in the book.

For example, in Chapter 3, Boon Gin briefly touches on the landmark decision in Romel, discussing the Honourable Chief Justice’s pronouncement of the three common factual matrices in which corruption offences arise. However, his discussion of this key decision does not touch on the important implications the various categories of corruption have on sentencing principles. While it is appreciated that the book is not intended as a sentencing resource, practitioners would no doubt have benefited from Boon Gin’s insight as to how the different categories of factual matrices for corruption offences may impact on the custodial threshold for sentencing, perhaps even in a chapter dedicated to sentencing considerations peculiar to corruption cases. Such a chapter could have also addressed another question which practitioners in the area of white collar crime often have – the circumstances under which the custodial threshold is crossed for sentencing with relation to various corruption offences.

On the whole, I must compliment Boon Gin for a book that is notable for its accessibility, succinctness, and impressive traversal of the various issues in the law relating to corruption that would concern both the layperson and the practitioner. Catering to various audiences while maintaining a consistency in tone and value across these audiences is no mean feat, and Boon Gin’s book will prove to be an excellent resource for anyone interested in understanding the law of corruption in Singapore better.

For more information or to purchase the book, click here.

BE (Hons) (University of Canterbury of New Zealand)
LLB (Hons) (National University of Singapore)
LLM (University of Cambridge)