Director's jail term for graft set aside by High Court

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The High Court has set aside a company director's five-week jail term for graft and fined him $35,000, ruling that the prison term was "manifestly excessive" based on the sum involved and the lack of real loss to the firm.

Heng Tze Yong, 44, also did not initiate the bribes, a factor "not to be ignored altogether in arriving at a sentencing decision", and his culpability "was not so high as to have crossed the custodial threshold", said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin in judgment grounds last week.

Heng had admitted last year in a district court to giving $10,000 in bribes to Ben Ong, the facility manager of a semiconductor manufacturer, in return for contracts worth about $155,000.

Heng pleaded guilty to one charge of giving $7,000 in bribes, with a second charge considered in sentencing.

On appeal to the High Court in March, Heng's lawyers, Senior Counsel Sant Singh and Mr Tan Hee Jeok, drew the court's attention to a separate case with similarities involving financier Thor Chi Tiong, who was jailed six weeks by a district court last year for giving a $10,000 bribe to the same recipient, Ben Ong.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon had set aside Thor's jail term, on appeal, and imposed a $35,000 fine instead. Thor's appeal was heard after Heng was sentenced in the district court.

Mr Singh argued that like Thor, the threshold to impose a jail term had not been crossed in Heng's case.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Norman Yew and Deputy Chief Prosecutor Tan Khiat Peng disagreed and countered that Heng was a senior manager who gave bribes twice over three months, and not once, unlike Thor.

Justice Chao accepted that these were aggravating factors, but found that Heng's culpability was "broadly similar" to Thor's, bearing in mind that both held senior positions in their respective companies; the bribes were paid to the same recipient, Ben Ong; and no detriment was suffered by Micron Semiconductor Asia, the company Ong worked for.

The judge noted that Micron was "generally satisfied" with the products and services supplied and "did not suffer any real loss".

He also made clear that "any corrupt act which would occasion a loss of confidence in a strategic industry (like the semiconductor industry) was an aggravating factor that often, but not always, justifies a custodial sentence".

Justice Chao said Heng's offences had "limited nexus" to the semiconductor industry and "in the circumstances was unable to accord this purported aggravating factor any significant weight".

Ong was jailed for 10 weeks last year for taking the bribes.

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