Jailed ex-FairPrice storekeeper deleted WhatsApp messages to hide dealings with supplier from CPIB

Shaffiq Alkhatib
The Straits Times
May 19, 2023

A FairPrice storekeeper took bribes totalling $4,320 from representatives of two seafood suppliers to advance their business interests with the supermarket chain.

In an attempt to cover his tracks, Chua Teow Hym later deleted a WhatsApp conversation he had with one of the representatives after the man, who was then under investigation by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), advised him to do so.

From the total amount received in bribes, he managed to return $500 to one of his alleged accomplices.

On Friday, Chua, 61, who was a FairPrice storekeeper from 2009 to at least November 2021, was sentenced to five weeks’ jail and a fine of $2,000.

He had pleaded guilty to two graft charges involving $3,600 and one count of obstructing the course of justice. Five other charges involving the remaining amount were considered during sentencing.

He was also ordered to pay a penalty of $3,820, which reflects the total amount of bribes taken minus the $500 repayment.

The prosecution said that Chua had taken the bribes from Lim Wei Jian, 33; Ng Keng Meng, 58; and Lim Poh Heng, 70. The trio’s cases are still pending.

The Lims are father and son. At the time of the offences, Lim Poh Heng was a partner at Kiang Huat Sea Products Co while his son managed the firm. Ng was a partner at Nam Soon Sin Kee & Co at the time.

While working for FairPrice, Chua’s tasks included receiving stocks from suppliers and weighing them to ensure they matched the quantity ordered. He also had the discretion to reject stocks if they were not fresh.

Chua had received cash and gifts from his alleged accomplices as he knew that they wanted to forge good relationships with him due to his position at FairPrice.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Pei Wei said Chua did so despite knowing it was wrong for him to receive gifts from the suppliers and that accepting such items went against FairPrice’s employee code of conduct.

She added that on at least three occasions from 2010 to 2015, he accepted a red packet from Lim Poh Heng on Chinese New Year. Each red packet contained at least $200.

The DPP told the court that the older man later sent Chua messages via WhatsApp, asking for his help to buy a surplus of some fish from his firm. Chua then agreed to do so.

According to court documents, Chua also took bribes from Lim Wei Jian.

On two occasions in 2016 and 2017, Chua asked Ng for monetary loans, and Ng handed him $3,000. Chua later repaid him $500.

Court documents did not disclose how the offences came to light but in October 2020, CPIB started an investigation against Lim Wei Jian, who told Chua about it.

The authorities also seized Lim Wei Jian’s mobile phone.

DPP Tan said that in January 2021, Lim Wei Jian told Chua that they should delete the WhatsApp messages they had exchanged in a bid to prevent CPIB from detecting their dealings.

Chua then deleted their entire conversation some time on or before Jan 31, 2021.

This offence was discovered when the CPIB examined Lim Wei Jian’s mobile phone and found that certain messages from him to Chua had been deleted.

In an earlier statement, the FairPrice Group (FPG) said that since this incident, it has conducted thorough reviews of its procurement processes and implemented actions to strengthen its controls and governance where needed.

Its spokesman added: “(We have) zero tolerance for any behaviour that violates (our) code of conduct. The FPG code of conduct lays down principles of personal and professional conduct, and we require all our employees to hold themselves to these standards... FPG remains committed to moderating the cost of living in Singapore.”

The Straits Times

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