In the recent case of Goh Ngak Eng v Public Prosecutor  SGHC 254, the Singapore High Court took the opportunity to develop a sentencing framework for private sector corruption offences, declining to adopt the existing framework as set out in Takaaki Masui v Public Prosecutor and another appeal and other matters  4 SLR 160.
This article will explore the nature of this revised sentencing framework, and consider its impact on future cases.
Sometime in late-2014, Goh Ngak Eng (“Goh”) was approached by Rajavikraman s/o Jayapandian (“Raj”), who indicated that he would be able to refer jobs from Keppel FELS (“KFELS”) to contractors. Raj stated that he knew Alvin Lim Wee Lun (“Lim”), a yard manager in the Facilities Department at KFELS, who was in a position to recommend to whom the jobs were to be awarded. Due to an administrative lapse in KFELS’s procurement process at the time, Lim effectively decided which contractors would be invited to quote for jobs and which would eventually be recommended to be awarded with jobs.
Subsequently, Goh conspired with Raj and Lim to obtain bribes amounting to almost S$880,000 from a number of KFELS’s vendors, including Spectrama Marine & Industrial Supplies Pte Ltd and Growa (F.E.) Pte Ltd, in return for causing KFELS to engage these contractors for the purposes of providing equipment and/or services. In addition, Goh also paid bribes to Raj for the latter’s company to award works to Goh’s company Megamarine Services Pte Ltd, and to one Ong Tun Chai to falsify invoices in furtherance of the aforementioned conspiracy involving KFELS.
Goh pleaded guilty to a total of 19 charges, comprising 15 charges of abetment by engaging in a conspiracy to corruptly obtain gratification and 4 charges of corruptly giving gratification, with another 40 charges under the Prevention of Corruption Act (Cap 241, 1993 Rev Ed) (“PCA”) taken into consideration for the purpose of sentencing. In the court below, the District Judge imposed a global sentence of 17 months and 3 weeks’ imprisonment. Dissatisfied, Goh appealed against the sentence imposed as being manifestly excessive.
Issues before the High Court
On appeal, the 4 issues before the Singapore High Court were as follows:
Decision of the High Court
The Singapore High Court held that:
The Masui Framework
By way of background, the Court in Masui had introduced a five-step sentencing framework, comprised of the following steps:
However, the Singapore High Court in this case considered that Steps 2 and 3 of the Masui framework were “excessively complex” and rendered the framework “unworkable for sentencing courts to apply” noting, inter alia, that the identification of an indicative starting sentence was not a mathematical exercise.
We now turn to consider the Revised Sentencing Framework, the offence-specific factors to be considered, and the indicative sentencing ranges, as determined by the High Court.
Revised Sentencing Framework
The Singapore High Court held that the sentencing framework to be adopted should instead be based on the two-stage, five-step framework in Logachev Vladislav v Public Prosecutor  4 SLR 609, and therefore approved the revised sentencing framework set out below:
Scope of Revised Sentencing Framework
The Revised Sentencing Framework will apply to private sector corruption offences under Section 6 of the PCA, but not be extended to private sector corruption offences under Section 5 of the PCA and cases of public sector corruption. The different sections of the PCA are directed at distinct mischiefs and therefore will engage different considerations in the sentencing exercise.
This decision represents a notable departure from the Masui framework, known for its portrayal by way of 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional conceptual diagrams and models, and provides welcome clarity as to the approach to be taken by sentencing courts in relation to private sector corruption offences.
Furthermore, this decision reflects the Singapore judiciary’s recognition of the importance of deterrence in tackling corruption in the private sector. Indeed, the High Court had noted that the need for deterrence had resulted in a recent upward trend in custodial sentences for serious private sector corruption, and that sentences imposed in analogous historical cases may no longer serve as suitable reference points.
This position was exemplified by the High Court’s refusal to restrict the indicative sentencing range for a case of slight harm/low culpability to only a fine (thereby including a custodial term of up to 6 months), in developing the Revised Sentencing Framework. Furthermore, it is also noteworthy that the High Court had exceptionally enhanced Goh’s sentence on appeal by more than twofold, notwithstanding that the prosecution did not appeal against the original sentence imposed.
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