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Jail for HDB officer who violated Official Secrets Act by informing friend of surprise flat inspection

SINGAPORE — A Housing and Development Board (HDB) investigation officer was jailed for 25 days after informing a friend about an impending inspection of the flat where he was a tenant.

Jail for HDB officer who violated Official Secrets Act by informing friend of surprise flat inspection
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SINGAPORE — A Housing and Development Board (HDB) investigation officer was jailed for 25 days after informing a friend about an impending inspection of the flat where he was a tenant.

Kalayarasan Karuppaya, a 55-year-old Singaporean, pleaded guilty on Monday (Aug 30) to two charges of violating the Official Secrets Act by communicating information about the upcoming inspection to Damandeep Singh, a 22-year-old India national.

The officer — who has been suspended from his duties since Jan 25 last year — was not authorised to release the information to Damandeep.

The court heard on Monday that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau of Singapore (CPIB) had received information on Jan 9 last year relating to Kalayarasan providing Damandeep with information regarding the impending inspection of the HDB flat on several occasions in 2019.

Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Thiam Jia Min said that as an investigation officer with the rank of higher estate executive, Kalayarasan’s work involved conducting investigations into subletting and occupancy-related infringements in HDB estates.

These included offences such as the unauthorised subletting of HDB units, overcrowding and the misuse of units for vice or other illegal activities.

As part of his investigations, Kalayarasan would be involved in conducting surprise inspections at units identified in feedback and complaints from members of the public as well as the Singapore Police Force, DPP Thiam.

Kalayarasan was aware that information regarding such surprise inspections was confidential information that he was not allowed to share with others, including the owners and tenants of these flats.

Together with five others, Damandeep was a registered tenant in the unit in question, DPP Thiam said, noting that the maximum number of people allowed to stay in the flat is six.

Any breach of this condition might potentially result in a debarment of unauthorised tenants from renting HDB flats for a fixed period and the flat owner from leasing the property.

“Investigations revealed that at all material times, Damandeep and some of the other registered tenants illegally sublet the flat to more tenants, in breach of the HDB rules,” DPP Thiam said.

“The purpose of this was so that the illegal sub-tenants could bear some of the cost of the monthly rental of the unit. They collected about S$200 monthly from each illegal sub-tenant.” 

A total of about 12 to 13 people were staying in the flat at any one point, she noted, adding that Kalayarasan was not aware of these facts at the time.

FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN THE TWO

Kalayarasan became friends with Damandeep after conducting two inspections at the flat where he was staying in 2017 and 2018.

The prosecution noted that sometime before May 8 in 2019, HDB received a complaint from a member of the public regarding suspected overcrowding in the flat where Damandeep was a registered tenant.

The case was assigned to Kalayarasan, who informed Damandeep about the complaint. Damandeep then asked Kalayarasan to inform him ahead of time if there was going to be a surprise inspection conducted by HDB at the flat. 

“Damandeep explained to the accused that he liked the location of the unit very much and was worried he might have to give it up if he got caught for allowing his friends to sleep over on some nights, such that the unit would be overcrowded,” DPP Thiam said.

“Damandeep made this request so that he would have sufficient time to inform the illegal sub-tenants to vacate the unit prior to HDB’s inspection.” 

Noting that Kalayarasan was not aware of this, DPP Thiam said that he agreed to Damandeep’s request because of their friendship.

Kalayarasan was aware that he would be undermining HDB’s investigations in doing so and was not promised any compensation for relaying the information to Damandeep, she added.

A surprise inspection of the flat was scheduled for May 8 in 2019 and Kalayarasan called Damandeep to inform him of the inspection on the evening of that date.

Damandeep then informed the illegal sub-tenants to quickly move out of the flat.

When Kalayarasan arrived at the flat on the evening of May 8 with another officer, only two registered tenants were present.

The flat showed no observable signs of overcrowding or illegal subletting and the case was closed with no further action taken, the prosecution noted.

Between August and September that year, officers from the Bukit Merah East Neighbourhood Police Centre later conducted checks at various HDB flats, including the one where Damandeep was a tenant.

The police found the flat overcrowded on their two visits on Aug 24 and Sept 4 that year, with 19 and 18 occupants on each occasion respectively.

As preliminary investigations indicated that these were illegal sub-tenants, the police referred the case and their findings to HDB, with the case assigned to a Chris Ong.

Mr Ong asked Kalayarasan — who had by that time been assigned to other areas — to partner him to inspect the unit, as he was aware that Kalayarasan had previously conducted checks there.

A surprise inspection was scheduled for the evening of Sept 10 in 2019 and Kalayarasan then informed Damandeep of it.

That night, Kalayarasan and Mr Ong arrived at the flat for their inspection and found that no one was home.

They called Mr Leong Mun Chong, the flat's owner, and he arrived about 15 minutes later with Damandeep.

They found three occupants in the flat at the time and no observable signs of overcrowding or illegal subletting, the prosecution said.

After being informed of the police referral and the suspected overcrowding, Mr Leong decided to terminate the tenancy and the flat was vacated by Sept 22, 2019.

REAL CONSEQUENCES

The prosecution had called for a sentence of one month’s imprisonment for each charge, to run concurrently.

DPP Thiam said that Kalayarasan’s actions had undermined HDB’s investigations, adding that he had "not only neglected but actively obstructed" his own duties as an enforcement officer with the agency.

Kalayarasan’s case differed from earlier breaches of the Official Secrets Act in that previous cases did not involve enforcement officers violating the laws they were supposed to administer, and that “real consequences” had emanated from his acts, which had allowed Damandeep to evade detection, the prosecutor argued.

In her mitigation, Kalayarasan’s lawyer Cheryl Sim asked for a two-week jail term, noting that her client had neither received nor sought any personal gain from his actions.

Ms Sim noted that he had pleaded guilty to the offences at the earliest opportunity and that it was his first brush with the law.

Kalayarasan regretted that his friendship with Damandeep had clouded his judgement, and hoped to be able to move past this chapter in his life, the defence added.

In passing his sentence, District Judge Prem Raj noted that as an investigation officer, Kalayarasan would be well aware of the impact of informing tenants about surprise checks.

“Such conduct can never be condoned,” he said.

Those found guilty of an offence under the Official Secrets Act face a jail term of up to two years and a fine of up to S$2,000. CNA

For more news like this, visit cna.asia

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