Man bribed SMU Academy associate director with S$62,800 to get marketing services gig

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Man bribed SMU Academy associate director with S$62,800 to get marketing services gig After learning that his junior college schoolmate was an associate director with SMU Academy, Cher Kheng Than set up a company for the sole purpose of providing marketing services to the university’s professional training arm. SINGAPORE: After finding out that his junior college schoolmate was an associate director at the Singapore Management University (SMU) Academy, a man set up a marketing services company and bribed his friend with a cut of commissions to ensure he received business from the academy. Cher Kheng Than, a 46-year-old Singaporean, was sentenced to one year in prison on Tuesday (Feb 20). He pleaded guilty to two counts of corruption and a third charge of obstructing justice, with another six charges considered in sentencing. The court heard that Cher reconnected with co-accused Christopher Tan Toh Nghee, also 46, during a gathering in 2018. They were schoolmates at Temasek Junior College when they were younger. At the gathering, Cher learned that Tan was an associate director at SMU Academy, the professional training arm of the university that provides continuing education programmes for working adults. As associate director of business development, Tan managed the academic staff in the academy’s Service, Operations and Business Improvement (SOBI) department as well as those who attended its courses. SOBI engaged marketing partners to help advertise its courses. Sometime in December 2018, Tan suggested that Cher help him develop a new course called “Advanced Certificate in Entrepreneurship”. Tan said Cher could work for SMU Academy as a marketing partner under a commission-based structure. Cher found out that Tan was receiving a one-third cut of the commissions of another marketing partner and decided to follow suit and offer a portion of his payments to secure the business opportunity. In January 2019, Cher set up a company called CJ Synergy (CJS) for the sole purpose of providing marketing services to SMU. THE CORRUPT ARRANGEMENT His company was later engaged by SMU Academy on Tan’s recommendation to provide marketing services and take up advertising jobs such as running roadshows to promote the academy’s courses. Cher gave Tan 50 per cent of his payments for some of the jobs, higher than one-third, in order to make sure that he continued to get jobs. He would meet Tan about once per month to hand over Tan’s “commissions” in cash. Between June 2019 and October 2019, Cher gave Tan S$62,800 in corrupt cash payments. CJS’ business continued to grow, and Cher earned at least S$126,200, increasing the amount he gave in bribes. In July 2019, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) received a complaint that Tan had been soliciting kickbacks from three vendors involved with marketing SMU Academy’s courses. On Nov 26, 2019, Cher’s mother told him that CPIB officers were looking for him. Cher found out that CPIB had also visited Tan’s home, and realised what they might be investigating. When a CPIB investigation officer called Cher to ask him to report to the agency’s headquarters for investigations, Cher deleted his WhatsApp chat log with Tan. He was afraid that the conversation would contain evidence against him such as payment details. He also deleted an electronic note containing records of money he had given to Tan. He concealed these actions and lied to CPIB that he had no WhatsApp communications with Tan. He claimed that they communicated via phone calls and emails, and that the money he had given Tan was to repay a loan. Cher admitted to the corrupt arrangement later that day and CPIB was able to retrieve the deleted electronic note. The prosecutor sought 14 to 16 months’ jail for Cher, stating that the corrupt transactions took place in relation to a contract with a public body. Describing Cher as “cultivating” Tan over almost a year to gain favour and advance CJS’ business interests, Deputy Public Prosecutor Eugene Phua said SMU suffered “real and actual economic detriment”. The university paid more for the services provided by CJS than it ought to have, in order to fund Tan’s illicit gains, said Mr Phua. Tan was personally involved in the drafting of the agreement with CJS, which included a clause on how much commission SMU was to pay. SMU also suffered the loss of ensuring that the best marketing partners were engaged. Another vendor who bribed Tan, Jeffery Long Chee Kin, was jailed for 13 months last August. Tan was originally set to plead guilty on Tuesday, but his case has since been adjourned until March.

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