Singapore is facing a wave of political scandals. Here’s what we know so far

Tan Chuan-Jin was among two elected members of parliament to resign on July 17 for engaging in an “inappropriate relationship” despite being told to stop as early as February.

Yong Teck Lim | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — A series of revelations has rocked Singapore’s political scene in the past few weeks.

The news has involved the private lives of some of its leaders and highly paid ministers.

Here’s what we know so far:

Colonial-era bungalows

The news developed in May when an opposition politician questioned how Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam were able to afford the rents of two of Singapore’s “good class” government-owned colonial-era bungalows along Ridout Road, in a posh housing area.

Those dealings involved the Singapore Land Authority, a government agency under the charge of Shanmugam in the Law Ministry.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong eventually ordered a “review” overseen by a senior member of his Cabinet and conducted by Singapore’s anti-graft agency, which eventually found no evidence of the allegations pertaining to a potential abuse of power and conflict of interests.

The outcome of the review was debated in the Singapore Parliament.

“The fact of the matter here is, I don’t believe anybody is making an allegation that the minister is corrupt [or] somebody is corrupt in the system,” Pritam Singh, the leader of Singapore’s opposition in Parliament, said July 3.

“Singaporeans are not making that point. I think it’s quite clear to me.”

“The issue I think we’re having to deal with here is the ministerial code of conduct, and a specific course of action that was taken by the minister when he instructed his Deputy Secretary to get some information,” he added. “It is quite incongruous, in the eyes of many, for a minister to be asking a civil servant details which pertain to information for his personal use.”

Transport minister arrested

Just as the dust from the Ridout Road episode was beginning to settle, news emerged on July 12 that Lee had asked Transport Minister S. Iswaran to go on leave, saying he was involved in an anti-graft agency investigation.

Two days later, local media reported that the corruption bureau revealed that Iswaran was arrested on July 11 before being released on bail.

Iswaran and several unnamed individuals are currently assisting Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau with the investigations. Another name that surfaced was Singapore-based Malaysian property tycoon Ong Beng Seng, who has been asked to provide information on his interactions with Iswaran.

No other details have been made public so far.

In this picture from Sept. 19, 2013, Singapore property tycoon Ong Beng Seng speaks with then-F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone in the pit lane ahead of the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix at Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Mark Thompson | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Ong is the managing director of Singapore-listed hotel owner and operator Hotel Properties Limited and is widely credited with bringing Formula One to Singapore in 2008.

In 2022, his privately owned firm Singapore GP and the Singapore Tourism Board secured the rights to host the Singapore Grand Prix until 2028.

Speaker resigns

On Monday, Lee said he decided Tan Chuan Jin — the incumbent speaker of the Singapore’s Parliament — “had to go.” The decision came after he received information that Tan had not stopped an “inappropriate relationship” with fellow People’s Action Party lawmaker Cheng Li Hui even after the prime minister advised them to stop in February.

Lee said Tan had offered his resignation in February, but he had intended for Tan to leave only after succession arrangements had been finalized.

The prime minister said he found out about the affair between Tan and Cheng sometime after the 2020 general election.

Tan and Cheng had earlier announced their resignations on July 17, without explicitly stating the full reasons for their departure. Tan, 54, is married with two children. Cheng, 47, is reportedly unmarried. Both have since taken down their social media accounts.

Tan had appeared to link his resignation with comments he made privately seemingly unaware that his microphone was still switched on. He apologized on July 11 for his “unparliamentary” behavior after a video emerged which contained a clip in which he was heard muttering an expletive to describe Jamus Lim — an opposition MP.

‘Inappropriate exchange’

The opposition Workers’ Party said in a statement that it is “currently looking” into a video circulating online that shows elected member of parliament Leon Perera in “an inappropriate exchange” with Nicole Seah, a party member who had previously contested the 2020 general elections.

Neither Perera nor Seah has commented publicly on the issue yet.


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