Singapore PM Lee addresses Iswaran probe, affair between former MPs in statement to parliament

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a special statement in Parliament today where the resignation of two former ruling party MPs, as well as the corruption probe involving Indian-origin Transport Minister S Iswaran, dominated discussions for more than two hours. 

Photo courtesy: YouTube/Prime Minister's Office, Singapore
Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong during his statement to Parliament. Photo courtesy: YouTube/Prime Minister's Office, Singapore

PM Lee barred Iswaran from duty and slashed his salary after he was arrested last month in relation to a corruption probe. He also acknowledged that he should have acted sooner after learning of the affair between former Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin and Cheng Li Hui.

A recent spate of scandals has rocked the Singapore political arena.

Iswaran's pay was cut to SGD 8,500 (USD 6,300) per month until further notice, Lee said.

According to the Public Service Division, as of 2023, the benchmark level of a minister's monthly salary stands at USD 41,000, working out to an annual salary of USD 820,000.

Iswaran was arrested by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) on July 11. He is out on bail and has been placed on a leave of absence. CPIB's probe into Iswaran also involves billionaire Ong Beng Seng, the man widely credited with bringing Formula-1 racing to Singapore.

"Given that such incidents involving ministers are rare, there is no rule or precedent on how to effect an interdiction on a political office holder," Lee said in Parliament. "The specific details in Minister Iswaran's case generally follow how the civil service would deal with a senior officer in a similar situation. But this was my decision as Prime Minister because the political contexts for a minister and a civil servant being investigated and interdicted are different."

Briefly running through the facts of the case, Lee said that while investigating a "separate matter", CPIB came across some information concerning Minister Iswaran that "merited investigation".

Lee was briefed on the findings by the director of CPIB on July 5.

"He told me that CPIB would need to interview Minister Iswaran to take the investigation further, and sought my concurrence to open a formal investigation," said Lee, who gave his concurrence the next day.

Iswaran was brought in by CPIB on July 11, and subsequently released on bail. Lee said that CPIB investigations are still ongoing and that he is unable to provide more details on the case, so as not to prejudice the investigations in any way.

"I ask members of this House and the public to refrain from speculation and conjecture. We must allow CPIB to do its work, to investigate the matter fully, thoroughly and independently," he said.

When the investigation is completed, CPIB will submit its findings to the Attorney-General's Chambers, which will decide what to do, he added.

"Whichever way the facts come out, the case will be taken to its logical conclusion. That has always been our way," said Lee.

More than 10 MPs had filed questions on matters related to the probe by the CPIB.

Speaking about the extramarital affair between former lawmakers Tan and Cheng, Lee said that in hindsight, after learning about it, he should have "forced the issue earlier" rather than place "perhaps too much" weight on protecting their families.

"By giving the matter some time, I had hoped to give them a softer exit, and save them and their families the pain and embarrassment that they are suffering now," Lee said during a ministerial statement in Parliament.

"Regrettably, in the end, Tan and Cheng did not stop the affair, and both had to go," he said in his statement.