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Spy Dickson Yeo unlikely to face further legal action in Singapore: Observers

Spy Dickson Yeo unlikely to face further legal action in Singapore: Observers

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 14 Oct 2020
Author: Cara Wong

Singaporean Dickson Yeo was sentenced to 14 months' jail in the United States for spying on the US for China. 

The local authorities are still in contact with their counterparts in the United States regarding the Dickson Yeo espionage case, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Straits Times over the weekend.

Although the MHA declined to provide further information, observers say that the authorities here are not likely to take further legal action against Yeo, a Singaporean who was jailed for spying on the US for China, as his actions did not constitute a direct threat to Singapore.

Yeo, 39, was sentenced to 14 months' jail last Friday after earlier pleading guilty to acting as an illegal foreign agent in the US.

He had confessed to being recruited by Chinese agents when he was visiting Beijing as a PhD student at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

He recruited individuals in the American military and government to write reports, which he then passed on to his Chinese handlers.

He also created a fake consulting company to entice American experts.

Observers said that Yeo could be further questioned when he returns to Singapore, and that he is likely to be placed under close observation by security agencies here.

Yeo has served 11 months of his 14-month sentence as he has been held in a Washington jail since his arrest last November.

Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) research fellow Muhammad Faizal Abdul Rahman said that security agencies in Singapore are likely to keep tabs on Yeo to ensure that he reintegrates into society and is "less amenable to covert foreign influence".

Mr Faizal added that Yeo's actions may have fallen into a "grey area" here, as he was not acting directly against Singapore's interests.

"Rather, he was working for one foreign power against another foreign power. Nonetheless, his actions could fuel misconceptions overseas that Singapore is a 'third China' and that the country's Chinese majority is susceptible to China's influence," said Mr Faizal, who specialises in homeland security, intelligence and counter-terrorism.

Mr Faizal said that Yeo's admission to the court in the US that "he is still sympathetic to the Chinese cause suggests that he remains ideologically amenable to covert foreign influence, although his value as an intelligence asset is diminished".

Lawyers noted that Yeo cannot be tried here on the same espionage charges as he has already been convicted and punished in the US.

To be penalised here, Yeo must have acted against Singapore's interests or security, said lawyer Amolat Singh.

However, this is not likely to have been the case, said lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam, citing the MHA's statement in July which stated that investigations on Yeo have not revealed any direct threat to Singapore's security.

"However, should that assessment change, Yeo may be liable for the offences under the Internal Security Act," said Mr Thuraisingam, adding that Yeo might even have his citizenship stripped if he were a citizen by registration or naturalisation.

Meanwhile, academics say Yeo's case is a cautionary tale for the industry.

Assistant Professor Benjamin Ho, who is with the China Programme at the RSIS, said there are existing ethical guidelines that academics have to abide by that could prevent such incidents from occurring.

But the onus is largely on the academics to follow these guidelines, he said.

It is "fair game" for intelligence organisations to use whatever sources they can get their hands on to obtain information, said Prof Ho.

"It's up to the academics to be careful, to have a certain system of accountability so we don't end up being the collateral in this kind of geopolitical matters."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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