Indian-origin Singapore minister Iswaran resigns over corruption charges; vows to clear name

S Iswaran
Screenshot from an Instagram reel posted earlier by Singapore minister S Iswaran, explaining the Committee of Supply debate. Screenshot courtesy: Instagram/s.iswaran

Singapore’s Indian-origin Transport Minister S Iswaran, who is facing corruption charges, resigned from the ruling People’s Action Party today.

The 61-year-old politician will also step down as a Member of Parliament, The Straits Times newspaper reported.

Iswaran was arrested on July 11, 2023, as part of an investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB). His arrest was made public on July 14, although no details were provided on the nature of the investigation, according to media reports.

Property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, who owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix and is chairman of race promoter Singapore GP, was arrested and asked to provide information about his interactions with Iswaran.

In his resignation letter to Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, dated January 16, Iswaran rejected the various offences the CPIB charged him with.

“I reject the allegations in the charges and will now focus on clearing my name. Given the circumstances, I feel it is right for me to resign from Cabinet, as a Member of Parliament and as a member of the PAP,” the letter said.

Return of salary and allowance

In a separate letter to the prime minister, dated January 17, Iswaran said that he would be returning his salary and MP allowance received since the commencement of the CPIB investigations in July 2023.

“My family and I have decided to return the monies because we cannot in all good conscience benefit from them when I was unable, on account of the investigations, to discharge my duties as a minister and Member of Parliament,” he said, adding that he would not be seeking the return of these if he were to be acquitted.

Responding to the letter, Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday that he was disappointed and saddened that Iswaran was leaving politics in these circumstances.

“But,” said the prime minister, “it is essential that I deal with such matters rigorously, as per the law. It is the right thing to do. We must uphold the integrity of the Party (PAP) and the government. I am sure you understand the importance of doing so. Singaporeans expect no less.”

In a separate statement, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said that Acting Transport Minister Chee Hong Tat would replace Iswaran effective today. He would also be appointed Second Minister for Finance. Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu would take over Iswaran’s portfolio as the Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations.

27 charges against Iswaran

This morning, Iswaran appeared before a district judge and was charged with two counts of corruption over bribes. He arrived at the State Courts at about 8am and did not respond to questions from reporters during his walk to the court entrance, according to a Channel News Asia report.

He pleaded not guilty to 27 charges — two of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act; one of obstructing justice; and 24 of receiving gratification as a public servant under the Penal Code.

Iswaran is accused of accepting more than SGD 160,000 from Ong to advance the hotelier’s business interests in a Singapore Grand Prix contract with the Singapore Tourism Board in September and December 2022.

He also faces 24 charges of accepting valuable items worth more than SGD 218,000, including Singapore Grand Prix tickets, between November 2015 and December 2021 from Ong while being a public servant and one charge of obstructing justice in May 2023. Iswaran was Minister for Transport in Singapore since May 2021. His political career spans more than 26 years since he was first elected in 1997 as a Member of Parliament.