Former union leader jailed after being on run for 35 years
Ex-NTUC chairman Phey Yew Kok jailed 60 months for crimes dating back to 1973
He was a rising political star in the 1970s, an MP for the now-defunct Boon Teck constituency, and the man who spearheaded the labour movement and had total control over two of its unions.
But behind the scenes, Phey Yew Kok was a serial criminal, misappropriating $450,000 of union funds over six years and even getting his staff to cover his tracks.
He was eventually found out and charged in December 1979.
With his world falling apart, he hopped on a train on New Year's Eve, while on bail, and fled the country to Malaysia, then to Thailand.
For the next 35 years, his fall from grace was harsh: The former MP had to take up pig farming, among other odd jobs, to survive.
He kept looking over his shoulder for fear of being arrested for being in Thailand without proper papers or a valid passport.
The fugitive life took a heavy toll on his health, prompting him to surrender last June at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok.
Yesterday, Phey, 81, was jailed for 60 months for his crimes that dated as far back as 1973.
He pleaded guilty to 10 counts of criminal breach of trust, one count of abetting the fabrication of false evidence, and one count of failing to attend court when ordered to by a judicial officer.
Twenty-two other charges were taken into consideration.
Phey, sporting a head of white hair, appeared calm in the dock during the hearing.
None of his family members turned up in court for the hearing.
Court papers said Phey started out as an accounts clerk in the aviation industry in the 1960s, which was when he also started taking an interest in union activities.
In 1970, he became president of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and general secretary of both the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU) and Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (Silo).
He later also became chairman.
In 1978, he became general secretary of the Singapore Air Transport Workers Union (Satu).
However, between 1973 and 1979, he set out damaging what he had built up as he and his accomplices misappropriated almost half a million dollars of cash and goods.
Of that amount, Phey siphoned off $85,000 to pay for his two properties - at 53B, Lorong Ong Lye, off Upper Paya Lebar Road, and at Kensington Park Road - and had about $50,330 of union money and cash meant for his constituency's education centre wired to his account.
He also had $15,000 transferred from the unions' staff fund to his wife's bank account in 1976.
Phey and three accomplices also misappropriated $210,860 of goods by diverting them from Silo's supermarket and emporium division to a private supermarket chain set up by Phey.
He also got two of his staff to cover his tracks by fabricating evidence and giving false statements to the authorities.
In 1979, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) began investigating and found out about Phey's misdeeds.
On Dec 31, 1979, Phey fled to Malaysia before making his way to Thailand. The next 35 years were miserable for Phey as he was away from his family, said his lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, in mitigation.
He had to constantly move from place to place because he did not have an identity card or passport.
He could only take up odd jobs such as pig farming, cleaning grease traps and working as a watchman for a warehouse.
His eyesight and hearing also began failing as he grew older.
Mr Chelva said: "With no security, safety and income, Mr Phey found it increasingly difficult to survive. He was struggling and worried daily about being arrested."
On June 22 last year, Phey surrendered because he wanted to spend his last days with his family instead of dying alone in a foreign land, said Mr Chelva.
He also missed the formative years of his three children's lives and has never met his two granddaughters.
Mr Chelva said that Phey was ashamed and remorseful of his wrongdoings.
"In hindsight, he regrets absconding and realises that he should have stayed on and faced up to the consequences of his mistake," he said.
When The New Paper visited the home of Phey's older son, a woman who answered the door declined to comment.
- Additional reporting by FOO JIE YING
In hindsight, he regrets absconding and realises that he should have stayed on and faced up to the consequences of his mistake.
- Phey Yew Kok's lawyer, Senior Counsel Chelva Rajah, in his client's mitigation statement
Judge: He's a serial criminal
He had total control over his two unions' finances.
But instead of safeguarding them, Phey Yew Kok exploited them, said Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Tan Kiat Pheng in his submissions yesterday.
Between 1973 and 1979, Phey misappropriated about $450,000 from two unions and his Boon Teck constituency.
This was the largest amount of union funds misappropriated in Singapore's history, DPP Tan said.
Phey also did not stop at just misappropriating money. He went on to conceal his tracks by layering his transactions and fabricating evidence, DPP Tan said.
ABUSE OF TRUST
In doing so, Phey abused the exceptional trust placed in him and the period of his offences meant they were not an instance of momentary discretion, said DPP Tan.
He said: "Not only does such conduct strike at the relationship of trust between trade unions and employers but, when uncovered, erodes the public confidence that trade unions serve the needs of the workers they represent."
Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie said Phey was a serial criminal who committed the offences systematically and deliberately over six years.
While the judge noted Phey's age of 81, she said the court could not send a wrong signal to offenders who succeed in avoiding apprehension.
"These funds, which were meant to be used for the benefit of trade union members as well as serve a public good, were channelled by the 'Union God' for his own personal benefit.
"He chose to repeatedly betray those who trusted him.
"His remorse, belatedly, does not displace the serious and aggravating nature of his offences and...Phey's conduct deserves the utmost censure of the court."
He chose to repeatedly betray those who trusted him. His remorse, belatedly, does not displace the serious and aggravating nature of his offences and...Phey's conduct deserves the utmost censure of the court.
-Deputy Presiding Judge of the State Courts Jennifer Marie
Phey's rise and fall
July 2, 1934: Phey Yew Kok is born in Johor. He marries a teacher and has three children.
Early 1960s: After working two to three years as an English teacher, Phey becomes an accounts clerk.
1970: He becomes general secretary of the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation (Silo) and the Pioneer Industries Employees' Union (PIEU), and president of NTUC.
1972: He contests the General Election as a People's Action Party (PAP) candidate and is elected MP for Boon Teck constituency after beating People's Front candidate Lim Thiam Hock with 66.75 per cent of the vote.
1978: He becomes general secretary of the Singapore Air Transport Workers' Union (Satu).
1973 to 1979: He misappropriates $450,000 in cash and goods from his unions and constituency's education centre.
April to May 1979: The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) begins investigating.
Dec 10, 1979: Phey faces six charges in court involving $100,000 of union funds, before being released on $100,000 bail.
Dec 31, 1979: He takes a train to Kuala Lumpur and boards a flight to Thailand.
Jan 7, 1980: A warrant of arrest is issued after he fails to show up in court. Interpol issues an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest.
June 22, 2015: He goes to the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok and surrenders. He is charged in court here two days later.
July 23, 2015: Phey faces 28 fresh charges, bringing the total number of charges to 34.
Jan 22, 2016: He is jailed 60 months.