Offences concerning criminal breach of trust ("CBT") under ss 406 to 409 of the Penal Code have been described as a "sliding scale of severity". The most severe offence in this group is CBT by a public servant, which attracts a maximum jail term of life imprisonment, or a term of 20 years, and a fine. In a recent case, the accused Edwin Yeo ("Yeo") pleaded guilty to 3 charges of CBT by a public servant and 1 charge of forgery, and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. For the purposes of sentencing, the District Court took into account a further 4 charges of CBT by a public servant, and 12 charges of money laundering.
Yeo was found to have misappropriated $1.6 million when he was Head of Field Research and Technical Support ("FRTS") at the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau ("CPIB"). Between 2009 to 2012, Yeo had used the funds issued for FRTS' expenses for his personal expenditures, including credit card payments and gambling. For each sum that he misappropriated, he would cover it up with the funds issued for subsequent FRTS expenses. This is a method known as "rolling-over".
There were at least two ways in which Yeo misappropriated the monies: (i) by using the monies from encashed cheques that had been authorised for FRTS' expenses; and (ii) by setting up an internet banking facility to effect fund transfers from FRTS' bank account into his personal bank account.
Yeo also forged a Receiving Voucher which stated that full payment had been made by the CPIB for the procurement of equipment when in fact, a sum of $220,000 remained unpaid.
After factoring in the amount that had been rolled-over to pay for earlier misappropriations and the amount recovered from Yeo's personal accounts, a sum of around $1.6 million remained outstanding. As Yeo had pleaded guilty, the District Court only considered the issue of sentencing.
The District Court stated that the relevant sentencing considerations in this case were retribution and deterrence, especially since Yeo was a civil servant. Several aggravating factors were raised in Yeo's case:
(i) he was a senior officer of a public institution and had misappropriated a large sum of public funds;
(ii) the acts of misappropriation were perpetrated over 3.5 years, a substantial period of time;
(iii) the offences were well-planned and difficult to detect in the circumstances;
(iv) such acts endangered public confidence in the integrity of the public service, especially the law enforcement agencies; and
4 Legal Update
(v) full restitution had not been made.
The District Court was also of the view that Yeo was not a genuine first-time offender as he had perpetuated his crimes over a long period of time. Yeo's guilty plea also did not attract any substantial discount in the sentence since it was through the Bureau's own investigations that the case came to light, and not through any confession on Yeo's part. Finally, the District Court emphasised that the focus of the sentencing court should be on the totality of the sentence imposed, as opposed to the length of the individual sentences and the number of consecutive sentences ordered. Therefore, the total sentence given was 10 years' imprisonment with the CBT sentences ordered to run consecutively.
This decision demonstrates the severity of the penalties that would be meted out for public servants who have committed criminal breach of trust.