SINGAPORE: On Tuesday (15 Aug), the Singapore authorities launched what is believed to be the most extensive operation against money laundering in the country’s history.
The crackdown began promptly at 7 am local time, with over 400 officers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) conducting simultaneous raids across the island.
Assets roughly amounting to S$1 billion (US$736 million) were seized during the operation, which included properties, vehicles, luxury items, gold bars, and more.
A significant development in this operation, highlighted by local Chinese media 8world, involved a series of transactions linked to Citibank. The report claims that large sums were funneled into Citibank accounts by dozens of Fujianese individuals through underground banks.
Shicheng.news, another Chinese publication, stated that the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) had set up a covert task force more than three months prior, focusing mainly on the activities of Chinese nationals from Fujian province.
This was based on a tweet by VanessaCao on Twitter/X made on Wednesday before any official announcement of the arrests was made.
— VanessaCao 🌈 (@vc_btxcap) August 16, 2023
These funds, suspected of links to illicit activities like gambling and drug trafficking, attracted the attention of specific Singaporean government departments. This led CAD to establish the task force for an in-depth investigation.
VanessaCao also underscored an upcoming visit from a delegation of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security scheduled for 21 August.
The account also wrote that Singapore engaged in in-depth discussions with both the Chinese embassy and the Chinese Liaison Office in the city. Yet, the extent of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security’s involvement remains murky.
According to VanessaCao, this visit may directly correlate with CAD’s ongoing probes.
A discrepancy exists in the arrest figures: Shicheng.news cited around 30 arrests with potential involvement of up to 60 individuals, while the SPF reported that only ten individuals, aged between 31 and 44, were detained.
These ten individuals, from diverse nationalities such as Cypriot, Turkish, Chinese, Cambodian, and Ni-Vanuatu, are facing charges pertaining to the alleged crimes, including resisting arrest.
Additionally, twelve individuals are aiding with current investigations, and eight are on the police’s wanted list. The SPF clarified, “These individuals are believed to be connected. None are Singaporean citizens or permanent residents.”
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) noted that earlier intelligence and data from suspicious transaction reports (STRs) submitted by Singaporean financial institutions (FIs) had alerted CAD to dubious activities within the financial sector.
Conversely, the SPF said it initiated its investigation following tips about alleged illegal activities, reportedly involving the use of counterfeit documents to trace the origins of funds in Singaporean bank accounts.
Further in-depth investigations, fortified by intelligence and scrutiny of STRs, pinpointed a group of foreign nationals suspected of money laundering. These funds are believed to originate from their foreign organized crime endeavors, ranging from scams to online gambling.
Moreover, the police issued prohibition orders on assets, including 94 properties and 50 vehicles, cumulatively valued at over S$815 million. Confiscated assets also comprise over S$110 million dispersed across 35 bank accounts, S$23 million in cash, luxury goods, electronics, jewelry, two gold bars, and 11 virtual asset-related documents.
In its press statement, MAS emphasized its earnest approach to this case, maintaining communication with the FIs that identified the possibly tainted funds.
MAS continues its supervisory engagement with these institutions, vowing to take strict action against any FIs found in violation of MAS’ rigorous anti-money laundering/counter-terrorism financing protocols, or those with subpar defenses against money laundering/terrorism financing (ML/TF) risks.
As of this report’s release, the Singaporean authorities have yet to announce any participation of Chinese officials in their official statements.