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East Asia Forum issued Pofma order for statements on independence of CPIB, PM Lee’s handling of issues

SINGAPORE – Online academic platform East Asia Forum on Aug 18 published an article that contained false statements linked to several issues, including the independence of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s approach in handling certain matters.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) office has directed the platform to put up a correction notice for the article, following instructions by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah, the Government said in a statement on Wednesday.

The East Asia Forum article was written by National University of Singapore assistant professor Chan Ying-Kit.

The Australia-based platform will be required to carry a correction notice at the top of the article, the main page of its website, the top of its Facebook post and on its Facebook page.

The notice must also provide access to the Government’s correction on its fact-checking website Factually.

Setting out the article’s egregious statements, the Government said it falsely claimed that PM Lee had conflated marital infidelity and corruption when he equated three recent issues involving People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians, with an incident of marital infidelity involving politicians from the Workers’ Party (WP).

The three issues involving the PAP were the Ridout Road property rentals by Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, the corruption probe into Transport Minister S. Iswaran, and Former Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin’s extramarital affair, said the Government in its clarification on Factually.

Refuting the claim that Mr Lee had conflated marital infidelity and corruption, the Government set out the context behind Mr Lee’s remarks at a press conference on July 17, which was held to address the resignations of Mr Tan and Ms Cheng Li Hui over their affair.

Then, Mr Lee had given his views in relation to both the CPIB and extramarital affairs in response to a question posed to him by the media.

“Any concurrent mention of both the CPIB investigations and extramarital affairs related only to the close proximity of the timing in which the incidents were made public, and not the substance of these incidents,” the Government said.

Mr Lee had also said in his ministerial statement in Parliament on Aug 2 that the Government took different approaches towards allegations of corruption or other wrongdoing in the discharge of official duties, and cases involving misconduct in personal lives.

Mr Lee had made two references to WP in his ministerial statement and clarifications on Aug 2, none of which were attempts to equate the three issues the PAP faced with the WP’s one episode of marital infidelity, the Government said.

The Government also said the East Asia Forum article falsely claimed that the CPIB is not independent in deciding whether to carry out investigations because it reports directly to the Prime Minister alone, who also wields power to refuse approval for CPIB to investigate.

But the article omits to mention other safeguards that ensure the CPIB’s independence.

Among other things, there is an article in the Constitution which allows CPIB to continue with an investigation that the Prime Minister has not consented to, if the agency has the “concurrence of the President”.

The article also falsely suggests that in the 1990s there was “a cover-up of wrongdoing or corruption” in how the Government dealt with Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s purchases from Hotel Properties (HPL), the Government said.

These purchases were scrutinised as both men had been given unsolicited discounts by HPL.

The article said then-PM Goh Chok Tong decided not to refer the matter to the CPIB and instructed Finance Minister Richard Hu speak to both men to investigate the matter.

HPL is co-founded by tycoon Ong Beng Seng, who is also embroiled in the current corruption probe involving Mr Iswaran.

The Government said the matter was openly debated in Parliament in 1996.

“During the debate, MPs who spoke, including then-Opposition MPs Low Thia Khiang, Ling How Doong, Cheo Chai Chen, and Chiam See Tong did not state that there was anything wrong with the discounts that then-SM and then-DPM received,” the Government said.

Apart from Mr Hu, investigations were also conducted by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong and then Deputy Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Koh Beng Seng.

MAS’ investigations did not disclose any wrongdoing or impropriety by the ministers, the Government said.

The article had also falsely claimed that there was a cover-up of wrongdoing or corruption by allegedly having only Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, and not the CPIB, investigate the matter concerning SLA’s lease of state-owned properties at Ridout Road to Mr Shanmugam and Mr Balakrishnan.

The Government said: “CPIB investigated into the matter and produced a report after a thorough factual investigation.

“Its report stated that it found no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing in the rental transactions of the Ridout Road properties.”

It added that the Government has “acted decisively” where wrongdoing has been found.

“Whilst the author is free to express his views on the above matters, his article makes false and misleading statements while omitting key facts on these matters of public interest,” said the Government.

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