Dickson Yeo, S'porean who spied for China, to remain behind bars

·Editorial Team
·3-min read
The Ministry of Home Affairs last year said Yeo was arrested under the Internal Security Act and will be interviewed “to establish if he had engaged in activities prejudicial to Singapore’s security”. (Photo: Getty)
The Ministry of Home Affairs last year said Yeo was arrested under the Internal Security Act and will be interviewed “to establish if he had engaged in activities prejudicial to Singapore’s security”. (Photo: Getty)

SINGAPORE — Dickson Yeo, the Singaporean man who was jailed in the US for spying for China and was arrested by the Internal Security Department (ISD) upon his return to Singapore last year will be continue to be held in detention under the Internal Security Act.

In a statement on Tuesday (15 June), the department said its investigations have established that Yeo "worked for the intelligence apparatus of a foreign state and had carried out various taskings given to him by his foreign handlers in exchange for monetary gains".

From 2016 until his arrest in the US in 2019, Yeo was asked to source for information and provide reports on issues, including information relating to Singapore, and had approached various people in Singapore to try to get information for his reports, said the ISD.

He also set up a front company in Singapore as a cover, not only for information-gathering activities but also for his foreign handlers to recruit others.

"He had also tried, but failed, to secure employment in the Singapore government sector to further his information-gathering activities," the department added.

The ISD said its investigations are still ongoing and Yeo's continued detention is necessary "to facilitate probes into the full extent of his activities".

"The Singapore Government takes a very serious view of anyone who enters into a clandestine relationship with a foreign government and engages in activities at the behest of the foreign power that is inimical to our national security and interests, including bilateral relations," the department added.

About the case

Yeo was a doctoral candidate at the National University of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) when he was recruited by Chinese intelligence officers after a 2015 trip to Beijing to give a presentation on the political situation in Southeast Asia.

He was first arrested by American counterintelligence officers in November 2019. He pleaded guilty in July last year to one charge of operating illegally as a foreign agent, and admitted to working between 2015 and 2019 for Chinese intelligence “to spot and assess Americans with access to valuable non-public information, including US military and government employees with high-level security clearances”.

A few days after he entered his plea, LKYSPP said it had terminated Yeo’s PhD candidature with immediate effect. Yeo had enrolled as a PhD student there in 2015 and was granted a leave of absence in 2019.

In October last year, Yeo was jailed for 14 months in the US for passing to the Chinese government valuable, but unclassified, military and political information that he had duped a number of Americans into giving him. 

Prosecutors said that Yeo was motivated by monetary gain and a shared desire with China to weaken the global standing of the US. Among the information Yeo handed over to China were reports on a military aircraft program, US troop withdrawal in Afghanistan and on a US Cabinet member, who was not identified in court documents.

“I take full responsibility for what I have done,” Yeo reportedly said during sentencing. “I am sympathetic to China’s position, but it was not my intention to harm anyone.”

In a statement announcing his arrest upon his return to Singapore in December last year, Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs said, “Singapore will not allow our nationals to be subverted or used by any foreign actors for activities prejudicial to our security and national interests.

"We will deal firmly with such individuals in accordance with our laws,” the ministry added.

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Related story:

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