Singapore diplomat faces charges over misuse of diplomatic bags for Panadol and luxury watches

Photo: Gilbert Oh Hin Kwan/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Royal Government of Bhutan
Photo: Gilbert Oh Hin Kwan/Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Royal Government of Bhutan

Gilbert Oh Hin Kwan, a 44-year-old director-general at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), has been charged with two counts of cheating and one count of providing false information to a public servant. The charges stem from an alleged misuse of diplomatic bags to transport Panadol and luxury watches.

Channel News Asia reported that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) revealed that in December last year, Oh utilized the diplomatic bag service to send a package containing boxes of Panadol from Singapore to Beijing. Instead of declaring that the parcel was intended for his MFA colleague Dion Loke Cheng Wang in Beijing, Oh allegedly hid the true recipient, a personal acquaintance.

According to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomatic bags are exclusively meant for official documents or items. The CPIB claims that MFA was misled into accepting the package under false pretenses, stating, “MFA was induced to accept the package for dispatch via the diplomatic bag service on that basis, which it would not have done had it known the truth.”

The use of diplomatic bags for personal items is a serious breach of protocol, as they are meant to be inviolable and reserved for official use only. Violating this convention may have severe consequences for diplomatic relationships.

Curiously, Oh is also accused of instigating Loke to dispatch a diplomatic bag containing luxury watches from China to Singapore. The CPIB alleges that Oh failed to disclose the true owner of the watches and later lied to MFA Deputy Secretary Ong Eng Chuan about their ownership, claiming they belonged to his father.

Oh’s lawyer, Shashi Nathan, stated that the matter is “quite sensitive” and requested that his client’s attendance be dispensed with, a request that was granted. Nathan and Harjeet Kaur from Withers KhattarWong are representing Oh in this case.

If found guilty of cheating, Oh could face imprisonment of up to three years, a fine, or both. Additionally, lying to a public servant could result in a sentence of up to two years in jail, a fine, or both.

In response to queries by CNA, an MFA spokesperson stated that the ministry expects all its staff to uphold the highest standards of conduct and confirmed that the officer in question has been on no-pay leave during the ongoing investigations. As the court case unfolds, more details are expected to emerge regarding this unusual misuse of diplomatic channels.

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