Ex-BSI banker Yeo Jiawei jailed 30 months for witness tampering in 1MDB investigation

SINGAPORE: Former BSI banker Yeo Jiawei was sentenced to 30 months’ jail on Thursday (Dec 22), for tampering with key witnesses in the money laundering investigation linked to Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

He was found guilty of all four charges on Wednesday, for attempting to frustrate the Commercial Affairs Department’s (CAD) investigation into his alleged involvement in illicit transactions worth tens of millions, as well as to cover up his ties to prominent Malaysian businessmen Low Taek Jho and Eric Tan Kim Loong, who are both implicated in the 1MDB scandal.

 Yeo, 33, had urged three key witnesses to lie and destroy incriminating evidence.

Prosecutors sought an unprecedented jail term of 36 months, which they said is warranted, in light of Yeo’s “lack of compunction in lying and sheer determination to avoid admitting to having lied unless absolutely necessary”.

Yeo had “resorted to ludicrous excuses … (and) where he did admit to having lied, he would, more often than not, still attempt to give excuses for lying”, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng. “He pointed the finger at everyone but himself.”

During Yeo’s 12-day trial, his former boss, Kevin Michael Swampillai, revealed that the pair had pocketed US$5 million (S$7.2 million) apiece in a secret deal they brokered with 1MDB-owned Brazen Sky.

Mr Swampillai, former director of wealth management services at BSI, said he and Yeo were hungry for a cut of the US$2.3 billion deal BSI had inked with Brazen Sky and Bridge Partners International Management in 2012.

So they brokered the deal without the bank’s knowledge, with the help of their colleague Yak Yew Chee, a senior private banker who personally handled the accounts of Mr Low and entities linked to 1MDB.

Yeo and Mr Swampillai pulled off the secret deal with the help of Mr Samuel Goh, whom Yeo roped in as an intermediary to distance himself and Mr Swampillai from the illicit deal.

Mr Swampillai and Mr Goh had both given evidence about a meeting they had with Yeo at the Swiss Club in March, during which he allegedly told them to “play poker” with the CAD, so investigators would not uncover more incriminating evidence against him.

At trial, Yeo argued that the men were “lying to save their own skin”, that he acted on Mr Swampillai’s instructions, and that it was Mr Swampillai who urged him to lie to officers.

Defence lawyer Philip Fong said a three-year jail term is unprecedented and would be “crushing”. He added that it may prejudice Yeo’s upcoming trial.

Yeo faces another seven charges for money laundering, cheating and forgery. A second trial is expected in April next year.

Mr Fong cautioned against punishing Yeo for those offences even before he has been convicted of any of them, criticising the prosecution for introducing evidence related to the other charges at the trial which relates to witness tampering.

He urged the court to “look at this case within the confines of this case”, and to sentence Yeo to four months’ jail, closer to the norm for this type of offence. “To place any weight on (the evidence related to the money laundering charges) would be highly prejudicial and uncalled for in the circumstances,” Mr Fong said.

For attempting to pervert the course of justice by tampering with witnesses, Yeo could have faced up to three and a half years’ jail per charge and a fine.

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