SINGAPORE: On Wednesday (2 Aug), Members of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC from the Workers’ Party filed questions about the controversial case involving former Formula One CEO Bernie Ecclestone’s alleged trust of S$650 million in a Singapore bank.
Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis questioned whether the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) was satisfied with the anti-money laundering measures at the bank where Ecclestone’s funds are allegedly held. Concurrently, Ms He Ting Ru asked if the Singapore Government had received any requests from UK law enforcement agencies regarding the Ecclestone case, and, if so, what the nature of the provided assistance was.
In response, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mr Lawrence Wong, representing the Prime Minister, stated, “It is our policy, in line with international practice, not to comment on whether a foreign government has made a request for legal assistance on specific cases.” He added that the MAS, Singapore Police Force, and Attorney General’s Chambers “have worked closely with UK authorities on their investigation and prosecution of Mr Ecclestone.”
Moreover, he clarified, “Singapore proactively shared relevant information with our UK counterparts, which helped them develop their case.” Addressing the bank inspection, Mr. Wong said, “In 2017, MAS conducted an inspection of the bank cited in recent media reports to assess its controls for mitigating money laundering and terrorist financing risks. During the inspection, MAS specifically reviewed the bank’s handling of its relationship with Mr Ecclestone.”
He elaborated on the findings, stating, “While MAS found that there was room for improvement in the bank’s anti-money laundering processes, it did not find gaps or weaknesses that were systemic in nature. MAS also noted that when adverse news about Mr Ecclestone first surfaced in 2013, the bank promptly subjected the account to enhanced monitoring controls by requiring all transactions to be flagged for scrutiny and approval.”
As for the future, Mr Wong promised, “MAS will continue to work with financial institutions to ensure that our financial sector’s defenses against financial crime remain robust.”
The case revolves around Ecclestone being accused of acting “dishonestly” and intending to gain by providing misleading information about his assets to the UK government’s HMRC officers. The charges stem from an allegation that Ecclestone failed to declare a substantial trust fund held in Singapore, a claim Ecclestone has consistently denied.
On 14 July, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau disclosed that both Transport Minister S. Iswaran and prominent billionaire businessman Ong Beng Seng were arrested on July 11.
They are currently cooperating with the authorities in connection with a case that the CPIB had discovered. However, specific details regarding the nature of the probe were not provided by the CPIB.
Both Mr Ong and Iswaran were subsequently released on bail, with Iswaran’s passport confiscated. The bail amount for Iswaran was not disclosed, but it was known that Ong was granted bail of $100,000.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has instructed Minister Iswaran to take a leave of absence until the investigation is concluded. The Transport Minister will remain in Singapore during this period and will be denied access to any official resources and government buildings.
However, Iswaran continues to draw his MP allowance, which is estimated at S$16,000 a month, and reduced ministerial pay at S$8,500 a month.
Mr Ong is renowned as the exclusive shareholder of the Singapore Grand Prix (GP), serving as the organizer of this annual sporting event, which forms part of the Formula One World Championship. In addition, he owns various hotels worldwide. Ong and his wife, businesswoman Cristina Fu, are esteemed members of Singapore’s 25 richest couples.
In 2007, he secured the deal to bring the prestigious Formula One race to Singapore, primarily due to his rapport with former Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone.
While Singaporeans await further information from the CPIB regarding Minister Iswaran’s arrest, reports by the online media outlet Asia Sentinel suggest that the origins of this affair could be linked to the London trial for fraud involving Ecclestone.
A source provided a tip-off suggesting that the F1 accounts were used as evidence to demonstrate corruption. Among the entries, a payment was allegedly made to Ong, serving as reimbursement for covering Iswaran’s expenses related to the use of the VIP lounge at the F1 event in Singapore.
Subsequently, a Singaporean individual reportedly noticed this entry and informed the CPIB, according to the Asia Sentinel.