SINGAPORE: Singapore's Indian-origin former transport minister S Iswaran, who has resigned from the ruling party after being charged with multiple offences, on Thursday said he was "innocent" and rejected all graft allegations against him.
Earlier in the day, Iswaran, 61, was handed an array of charges, the bulk of which was for receiving items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from billionaire hotelier Ong Beng Seng, mainly relating to the Singapore F1 race, The Straits Times newspaper reported.
He pleaded not guilty to 27 charges - two of corruption under the Prevention of Corruption Act, one of obstructing justice and 24 of receiving gratification as a public servant under the Penal Code.
He told the court he intends to claim trial.
"I am innocent and will now focus on clearing my name", the former minister said in a statement on Thursday, rejecting all allegations against him.
Iswaran, who earlier in the day, resigned from the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) and announced stepping down as a Member of Parliament, said that he did that even without being asked to do so.
"I resigned as Cabinet Minister, Member of Parliament and as a member of the People's Action Party because I believe it was the right thing to do", Iswaran was quoted as saying by Channel News Asia.
In his resignation letter to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, dated January 16, Iswaran rejected the various offences the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) charged him with.
"I reject the allegations in the charges and will now focus on clearing my name. Given the circumstances, I feel it is right for me to resign from Cabinet, as a Member of Parliament and as a member of the PAP," the letter said.
"Further, I informed the Prime Minister on (Wednesday) that, even though I am innocent, I will be returning all monies that I received by way of salary as minister and allowances as Member of Parliament from the commencement of CPIB's investigations in July 2023," the former minister said.
Iswaran had written to the prime minister that he would be returning his salary and MP allowance received since the commencement of the CPIB probes and would also not seek the return of these if he is acquitted.
The ex-minister, whose political career spanned nearly 30 years, said he and his family decided to return the sum as they believed it was the right thing to do.
He had been drawing a reduced monthly salary of SGD 8,500 and a full MP annual allowance of SGD 192,500.
Iswaran was arrested on July 11 last year as part of an investigation by the CPIB.
The arrest was made public on July 14, although no details were provided on the nature of the investigation, according to media reports.
Iswaran, who was the Minister-in-Charge of Trade Relations, was actively involved in the government's engagements with F1.
He was chairman of the F1 steering committee.
He was placed on a leave of absence due to the CPIB investigation.
Court documents show that most of his offences involve Ong, who brought Formula One to Singapore in 2008.
The 77-year-old property tycoon was also probed by the CPIB and asked to provide information about his interactions with Iswaran.
Ong owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix and is the chairman of race promoter Singapore GP.
Iswaran is accused of accepting more than SGD 160,000 from Ong to advance the hotelier's business interests in a Singapore Grand Prix contract with the Singapore Tourism Board in September and December 2022.
He also faces charges of accepting valuable items worth more than SGD 218,000, including Singapore Grand Prix tickets, between November 2015 and December 2021 from Ong while being a public servant and one charge of obstructing justice in May 2023.
The 27 charges include tickets to shows, football matches and various editions of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, the Attorney-General's Chambers said through a spokesman that it would take a decision in respect of the investigations against Ong and others after the case against Iswaran has been completed, including the presentation of evidence in court.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), in a statement on Thursday, said that the government considered the terms of all the agreements carefully and an independent consultancy study was conducted for the F1 contracts.
It added that all preparations for the F1 Singapore Grand Prix in 2024, which is scheduled for September 20 to 22, are on track.
"There is nothing to suggest as of now that either the F1 contracts or other contracts were structured to the disadvantage of the government," the TODAY newspaper quoted the MTI as saying.
"Since the event's debut here in 2008, the F1 Grand Prix has brought substantial benefitsto Singapore, attracting more than 550,000 international visitors and generating around SGD 2 billion of incremental tourism receipts, the trade ministry said. Between 2008 and 2022, the race captured a global audience of over 1 billion viewers," it added.