On December 11, the Singapore Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) announced that two forklift truck operators employed by Cogent Container Depot Pte Ltd (Cogent), a subsidiary of China COSCO Shipping Group, were charged with violating section 6(a) of the Singapore Prevention of Corruption Act, which criminalizes “corrupt transactions with agents,” for demanding bribes of as low as S$1 (US$0.73) from truck drivers at Cogent.
One defendant, Chen Ziliang, was charged with one count of corruptly attempting to obtain from another person a bribe of S$1, as an inducement for not delaying the collection of a container onto that person’s vehicle, and one count of “embarking on a course of conduct between May 2016 and March 2018 of corruptly obtaining gratification of similar value from truck drivers at Cogent, as inducement for not delaying the collection or return of containers onto the vehicles of these truck drivers.” The other defendant, Zhao Yucun, was also charged with one count of “embarking on a course of conduct between September 2014 and March 2018 of corruptly obtaining gratification of similar value from truck drivers at Cogent, as inducement for not delaying the collection or return of containers onto the vehicles of these truck drivers.”
The CPIB stated that
[e]mployees are expected to carry out their duties fairly instead of obtaining bribes in exchange for favours. Even if the bribe amount is as low as $1, they can be taken to task. Bribes of any amount or any kind will not be tolerated. . . .
Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance approach towards corruption. It is a serious offence to bribe, or attempt to bribe another individual or entity. Any person who is convicted of a corruption offence can be fined up to $100,000 or sentenced to imprisonment of up to 5 years or to both.
Note: Chief legal and compliance officers in global companies – including, but not limited to, companies doing business in Singapore – should use this case as an opportunity to remind their global and regional anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) compliance teams about the importance of tailoring their monitoring, oversight, and training activities to include, when appropriate, country-specific ABC legal prohibitions and limits on transfers of value. They may also want to communicate an outline of the case to other senior officers, to underscore the importance of their companies’ compliance with all relevant laws in the jurisdictions where the companies do business.
Moreover, if a company’s ABC policy contains any provisions that appear to approve or tolerate facilitation payments in general, the company may need either to communicate that the company will not allow or approve facilitation payments in certain jurisdictions or revise its policy to eliminate any facilitation-payments exception. While Singapore represents a particularly stringent application of anti-corruption offenses, various other countries do not recognize facilitation payments as an exception to their anti-corruption offenses. Accordingly, companies should not assume that law enforcement in those jurisdictions will ignore evidence of repetitive facilitation payments merely because the payments are low amounts.