Illegal demining of Kranji Forest: JTC deputy director, senior project manager among 3 charged with multiple offenses


SINGAPORE – Two agents of the site developer JTC Corporation as well as an employee of a consulting company were taken to court on Friday April 22 and charged with various offenses related to the excessive clearing of a forest plot in Kranji.

It comes around a month after it was announced that police investigations into the clearance, which took place in 2020, revealed that two JTC officers had given “inaccurate information” to their superiors.

This is a 25ha site in Kranji, which has been reserved for the development of the Agrifood Innovation Park. It is part of the 500 ha Sungei Kadut eco-district.

The clearing that occurred without the approval of the National Parks Board (NParks) concerns more than 7.3 ha of the parcel, out of the 11.9 ha that had been cleared. 13.1 additional hectares of greenery are still undeveloped and all site work has been stopped.

The case came to light after a member of the public last year posted a series of photographs on Facebook showing a before-and-after aerial comparison of the plot.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was minister of commerce and industry at the time of the incident, told parliament last month that the “inaccurate information” provided by JTC officers had been passed on to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

This caused him to make inaccurate statements during a parliamentary session in February last year.

Following the clearing of the forest, JTC also released a detailed work schedule. He then said that trees had been mistakenly cleared before a biodiversity baseline study and an environmental monitoring and management plan had been completed.

CRIMINAL CHARGES

The three people charged on Friday were:

  • Chong Pui Chih, Deputy Director of JTC, 46 years old
  • Neo Jek Lin, senior project manager at JTC, 44 years old
  • Tan See Chee, Qualified Person and Superintendent of Contracts at CPG Consultants, 64

A fourth CPG Consultants employee, Jimmy Liu Wing Tim, was also due to be charged but did not appear in court after recently undergoing surgery in hospital. The 62-year-old is a superintendent’s representative.

Neo faces the most charges – eight – in total, while Chong faces seven and Tan faces five.

They all received five counts each under the Parks and Trees Act for conspiring with each other to cut down trees over 1m in circumference on vacant land without the approval of the parks and recreation commissioner.

For this reason, JTC’s contractor, Huationg Contractor, then felled 362 of these trees by January 13 last year.

Neo and Chong were also charged under the same law with two counts of fabricating false documents to obtain the commissioner’s approval.

Neo reportedly drafted and emailed an NParks agent on November 3, 2020 requesting approval for clearance work at the site. However, clearance work had already begun, according to court documents.

Chong also reportedly wrote a similar email asking for NParks’ approval on November 19 of the same year.

On January 12 last year, Neo and Chong allegedly then created and presented a PowerPoint presentation to an NParks officer, similarly requesting clearance work approval at the site “simultaneously while a study wildlife base was being conducted,” court documents showed.

Neo is further accused of asking Liu to email an NParks agent on September 25, 2020.

The email reportedly contained a schedule of clearance work at the site and was in response to an email from NParks about three weeks ago requesting information on the status of clearance work.

The e-mail Neo told Liu to send would have said that clearance work had only started on a certain parcel of the site.

Neo so called knew that demining work had already taken place on other plots of the site without the implementation of wildlife-related measures.

This would have prevented the Chief Wildlife Officer from exercising his powers under the Wildlife Act to stop work at the site, according to court documents.

All three cases, as well as Liu’s, were adjourned to May 23.

Persons found guilty of cutting down trees above a circumference of 1m, which grow on vacant land or a tree conservation area, without permission, may be fined up to 50 000 Singapore dollars.

Those found guilty of producing false documents to obtain approval from the Commissioner of Parks and Recreation can be fined up to S$30,000.

If convicted under the Wildlife Act of obstructing the Chief Wildlife Officer, Neo could be jailed for up to 12 months or fined up to $10,000. Singaporeans, or both.

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