MORE than three decades after he first jumped bail and fled Singapore, former trade union leader and People's Action Party member of parliament Phey Yew Kok appeared in court on Wednesday to face the corruption charges first served on him in 1979.
The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) said Phey, now 81, had turned himself in at the Singapore Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Monday and was escorted back to Singapore by CPIB officers on Tuesday.
He was first charged in December 1979 with four counts of criminal breach of trust involving S$82,520 and two other charges, under the Trade Unions Act, of unlawfully using S$17,745 of union funds to buy shares in a private supermarket, Forward Supermarket, in 1978.
Phey was then released on bail of S$100,000 but did not have his passport impounded. A warrant of arrest was issued against him after he failed to turn up in court on Jan 7, 1980. His two bailors lost S$95,000 of their bail bonds.
In a Facebook post on the matter, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday wrote: "We have maintained a clean and non-corrupt system in Singapore for half a century because we have zero tolerance for corruption. When we discover wrongdoing, we do not hesitate to act. We will not allow any cover up, even when it is awkward or embarrassing for the government."
At the time of his charges, Phey was in his second term as PAP's MP for Boon Teck. He was also chairman of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and general secretary of three trade unions - the Singapore Industrial Labour Organisation, the Pioneer Industries Employees Union and the Singapore Air Transport-workers' Union.
After he jumped bail, Phey was sacked from these posts, and stripped of leadership posts at other organisations such as the Singapore Labour Foundation, the advisory council of the Skills Development Fund and the Singapore Amateur Boxing Association. He also lost his seat in Parliament.
In the years that followed, in response to parliamentary questions about the hunt for Phey, the government said that investigations found that he had fled to Kuala Lumpur by train on Dec 31, 1979, and headed on to Bangkok. CPIB officers went to Bangkok to locate the fugitive, even though Singapore did not have an extradition treaty with Thailand, but could not find him.
Phey has also been raised by opposition parties at election rally speeches over the years as an example of a disgraced PAP politician - including at the Hougang by-election in 2012.
In response to media queries on Wednesday, PM Lee said: "He has been charged in court, and the law will have to take its course. This will bring closure to a long outstanding case involving a person who was holding public office as an MP and a senior union leader."
The Straits Times reported that the prosecution has applied for Phey to be remanded at Changi Prison for investigations and that more charges will be tendered against him. A pre-trial conference has been scheduled for July 23.
CPIB also said on Wednesday that Phey will be required to assist in further investigations in relation to other offences he may have committed.
In a brief media statement yesterday, NTUC also noted the development, saying: "We must now let the law take its course."