The Singapore High Court recently issued a revised sentencing framework for private sector corruption offences involving agents in Singapore.

Singapore’s anti-corruption regime

The Prevention of Corruption Act 1960 (PCA) is the primary anti-corruption legislation in Singapore. The main offences can be found stated in sections 5 and 6 of the PCA, which prohibit:

  • individuals corruptly soliciting or receiving bribes (section 5(a));
  • individuals corruptly giving or offering bribes (section 5(b));
  • agents corruptly accepting or obtaining bribes in relation to their principals’ business (section 6(a)); and
  • individuals corruptly giving or offering bribes to agents in relation to their principals’ business (section 6(b)).

Sentencing framework for private sector corruption involving agents

In Goh Ngak Eng v. Public Prosecutor [2022] SGHC 254, Goh pleaded guilty under section 6(a) of the PCA to being part of a conspiracy to obtain bribes. Goh and another accused had referred vendors to a co-conspirator for jobs at a shipyard. The co-conspirator, who was an employee and agent of the shipyard, awarded jobs to the vendors referred by Goh. These vendors provided invoices to the shipyard that included commissions for securing jobs at the shipyard. Goh shared the commissions with his co-conspirators. Goh also pleaded guilty to giving bribes under section 6(b) of the PCA.

The High Court in Goh set out a two-stage, five-step sentencing framework for private sector corruption cases involving agents under sections 6(a) and 6(b) of the PCA. This sentencing framework was modelled after the two-stage, five-step framework in Logachev Vladislav v. Public Prosecutor [2018] 4 SLR 609, which was a case involving offences under the Casino Control Act 2006.

In the first stage, the court determines an indicative sentence as a starting point which reflects the intrinsic severity of the offending act. This involves the following three steps:

  1. Step one: the court identifies, by reference to factors specific to the particular offence, (i) the level of harm caused by the offence; and (ii) the level of the offender’s culpability. Factors to consider in assessing the level of harm include actual loss caused to the principal, the benefit obtained by the bribe giver, and whether a strategic industry was involved. As regards culpability, factors include the sums given or received as bribes, the degree of planning, and the level of sophistication.
  • Step two: the court identifies the indicative sentencing range with reference to the level of harm caused by the offence and the level of the offender’s culpability. For offences under sections 6(a) and (b) of the PCA, sentences range from a fine at the lowest end (for offences where the levels of harm and culpability are low) to a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment (for offences where the levels of harm and culpability are significant).
  • Step three: the court identifies the appropriate starting point within the sentencing range identified in step two, by looking at the specific details of the case with reference to the same offence-specific factors considered in step one.

In the second stage, the court may revise the indicative sentence identified in the first stage to arrive at a sentence reflecting the individual circumstances of the offender. This involves the following two steps:

  • Step four: the court may revise the identified sentencing starting point to take into account aggravating and mitigating factors specific to the offender.
  • Step five: if the offender has been convicted of multiple charges, the court will consider whether to make further adjustments to the sentences for each charge. This to ensure that the overall sentence is “sufficient and proportionate to the offender’s overall criminality”.

Significance of this decision

The decision in Goh overrules the sentencing framework set out in the previous High Court decision of Takaaki Masui v. Public Prosecutor [2021] 4 SLR 16. The court in Masui used graphs and 3D models in a modified version of the Logachev sentencing framework. This sought to establish a single starting indicative sentencing point depending on specific levels of harm and culpability for each offence. However, the High Court in Goh found that the Masui approach was “excessively complex and technical”. Rather, arriving at an indicative starting sentence was not a mathematical exercise, and the court instead focused on the two-stage, five-step sentencing framework without considering the tools used in Matsui.

This decision brings the sentencing approach to private sector corruption cases involving agents in line with public sector corruption cases (with the Logachev framework having already been adopted in Public Prosecutor v. Wong Chee Meng [2020] 5 SLR 807).

Further, this decision underscores the Singapore judiciary’s commitment to deterring corruption in the private sector. The High Court significantly increased Goh’s sentence from 17 months and three weeks’ imprisonment to 37 months and three weeks’ imprisonment, even though the prosecution did not appeal the original sentence.

Reed Smith has extensive experience advising and conducting investigations in relation to corruption and fraud-related matters throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Reed Smith’s Singapore office provides Singapore law advice and handles Singapore court litigation through our formal alliance law firm, Resource Law LLC.