A Singapore minister on Monday defended prosecutors’ decision not to lay criminal charges against six former executives of state-backed Keppel Corp over their alleged role in the broad corruption scandal at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras . Facing a flurry of questions from lawmakers in parliament over the decision – a subject of public debate in recent weeks – Minister Indranee Rajah said there was “a lack of sufficient evidence, either documentary or through witnesses, which would establish any criminal charge beyond a reasonable double against a specific individual”. The decision was taken following exhaustive investigations by the country’s powerful Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Indranee said. The cross-border nature of the case and a lack of witnesses made prosecuting the six executives difficult, the minister in the prime minister’s office said. Lawmakers’ questions on the matter follows a statement issued by the CPIB on January 12 stating that the six individuals – which the agency did not name – had been issued stern warnings in lieu of prosecution. The agency cited “evidentiary difficulties” in its probe. How crime-riddled Singapore cleaned up its act and rooted out corruption The case made national headlines in 2017 when Keppel Offshore & Marine (Keppel O&M) – shipbuilder Keppel’s rig-building unit – agreed to pay around US$422 million in fines as part of a global resolution with criminal authorities in the US, Brazil and Singapore. It was the largest corruption case involving a portfolio company of state investor Temasek Holdings. Sembcorp Marine, another Temasek portfolio company, last year agreed to acquire Keppel O&M. The six former Keppel O&M executives are alleged to have paid bribes amounting up to US$55 million to win some 13 rigs-building contracts with Petrobras and Sete Brasil – two major oil companies involved in Brazil’s Operation Car Wash corruption scandal . In her remarks on Monday, Indranee reiterated CPIB’s difficulties during the probe cited by the agency in its January 11 statement, including many documents being located in different jurisdictions and authorities unable to compel key witnesses, who are located outside of the country, to provide evidence. The anti-corruption agency and public prosecutors visited Brazil twice in 2019, and submitted multiple requests for mutual legal help to Brazil and another “relevant foreign authority”. This was similarly stressed by Indranee, the Singapore minister, in parliament on Monday, as she urged lawmakers to be “realistic about what we can and cannot do”. The minister faced 17 questions from lawmakers, and the legislature made a rare move to extend the question period to allow her to respond to queries from the opposition Workers’ Party MPs. “A stern warning is given when you feel … you can’t say that you give a complete clean bill of health. But at the same time, you don’t have enough to clear the evidentiary hurdle Minister Indranee Rajah “Singapore companies who operate overseas do so in myriad environments, where all kinds of business practices prevail. We cannot police all of them,” she said. The minister was subsequently asked why the CPIB determined the six individuals would be issued stern warnings. To that, Indranee said “a stern warning is given when you feel that … you can’t say that you give a complete clean bill of health. But at the same time, you don’t have enough to clear the evidentiary hurdle”. The decision did not mean that Singapore was moving away from its firm zero-tolerance stance against corruption, she stressed. The Attorney-General’s Chambers and the CPIB were “observing the basic rules for a fair and just criminal justice system”. Asked why the six were not named, she explained that authorities did not disclose names of individuals unless they were charged in court, a policy similar to that of the United States and New Zealand . She said: “The principle underlying this policy is to avoid prejudicing that individual’s right to due process and also to avoid any presumption of guilt in the absence of any formal findings.” Ahead of Monday’s parliamentary sitting, the case was a topic of discussion in legal circles after prominent lawyer Harpreet Singh Nehal wrote a commentary on a legal news website questioning the CPIB’s “limited explanation” for issuing stern warnings in lieu of prosecution. Singh questioned if the decision was indicative of “a crack in Singapore’s long professed policy of zero tolerance towards corruption”. “In the absence of compelling further information from the authorities, the decision is discomforting,” he wrote. The commentary was subsequently removed from the website, Singapore Law Watch. The website told CNA that the commentary was “not within its editorial parameters” Will Indonesia’s new treaty with Singapore help it extradite corruption suspects? Following the publication of Singh’s commentary Indranee wrote on Facebook, without naming the lawyer, that “assertions” about the case had been made without “an inadequate understanding of the facts”. Public sentiment cannot be the basis of criminal proceedings, she said, adding that the “rule of law applies both ways”. Corruption cases of the scale involving Keppel O&M are extremely rare in Singapore, which prides itself for its high ranking in anti-corruption indices. The city state was ranked among the world’s five least corrupt countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index, and is the only Asian nation in the top 10. The CPIB, helmed by a director who reports directly to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is widely credited for the country’s stellar anti-corruption record.