SINGAPORE: K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister of Home Affairs and Law, unequivocally refuted any suggestion of a connection between the arrest of the ten suspects in the S$1.8 billion money laundering case and the visit by China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 10 August.
He firmly asserted that there was no discernible link between these two events.
“We started the investigations because we had reason to believe that these people had committed offences in Singapore.”
“We didn’t start the investigations at the request of some foreign country or party or because of external pressure.”
Singapore, he stressed, does not bow to pressure from any nation.
These remarks were made during an exclusive interview published in the Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday (10 Sept).
“Just because a country says arrest so-and-so doesn’t mean we go and arrest. It’s got to be illegal in Singapore. ”
“We need to be satisfied and we need to know that things have happened which are contrary to our laws, then we will take action – regardless of what others say,” he said.
Furthermore, Shanmugam highlighted that the investigation had been ongoing for several months. The police meticulously traced illegal activities both within Singapore and overseas, identifying individuals involved and scrutinizing the flow of funds.
The investigation was triggered by suspicious transaction reports submitted by financial institutions and other intelligence sources.
Shanmugam emphasized that such complex investigations couldn’t possibly be concluded within a matter of days or weeks. He stated that those familiar with this type of work would understand the time and effort required.
On 15 August, Singapore authorities launched what is believed to be the most extensive operation against money laundering in the country’s history.
During this operation, ten individuals, consisting of nine men and one woman aged between 31 and 44, were apprehended in an islandwide raid. Despite their different nationalities, these individuals share a common origin in Fujian.
Over $1.8 billion in assets were seized, leading to questions about how these individuals had managed to accumulate such wealth.
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Mr Jeyaretnam in a Facebook post on 18 August alleged the arrest of 10 foreign nationals in relation to forgery and money laundering, was a result of pressures from China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi.
In response, the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) and POFMA office have clarified that the arrest of the 10 foreign nationals was not influenced by any foreign entity.
Their arrests followed rigorous investigation efforts, as claimed in a Police News Release on 16 August 2023.
Shanmugam: Singapore to honour extradition treaty requests from partner nations
Regarding the handling of the seized assets, Mr Shanmugam informed Zaobao that, at present, these assets are held in police custody in accordance with established legal procedures.
If the ten individuals are proven guilty, and the assets are linked to criminal activities, their disposition will be subject to the decisions of the courts.
Concerning the fate of the ten foreigners following their conviction and sentencing, Mr Shanmugam clarified that they would serve their sentences, and in cases involving custodial sentences, individuals may subsequently be deported based on their passport permissions.
However, he added that if a country with an extradition treaty with Singapore requests their extradition, Singaporean authorities will adhere to the terms of the agreement.
Mr Shanmugam acknowledges criminals’ tactics of blending illegal and legal transactions for evasion
In the wake of the high-profile S$1.8 billion case, Mr Shanmugam emphasized the critical need to maintain Singapore’s reputation “as a place with trusted, sound regulation, good governance, strong rule of law” while staying open.
He pointed out that the financial services sector contributes 14 percent to Singapore’s gross domestic product, employs approximately 200,000 individuals, and significantly impacts growth across other sectors.
Therefore, closing the door to the financial centre is not an option, as it would inadvertently block even legitimate funds from entering.
Additionally, Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that criminals might attempt to commingle illegal transactions with legitimate ones to evade detection, a practice observed in financial hubs worldwide, including London, Hong Kong, and Australia.
“And inevitably, when you are a major financial centre, a lot of money comes in, some ‘flies’ will also come in… But everyone, not just us, has to do our best”
Mr Shanmugam highlights Singapore’s robust anti-money laundering measures
Mr Shanmugam emphasized Singapore’s robust anti-money laundering measures, aligning with international best practices, where the Monetary Authority of Singapore and financial institutions act as the primary defence.
He highlighted the obligation of various gatekeepers, including real estate agents and precious commodities dealers, to report suspicious transactions under Singapore’s laws.
Furthermore, Mr Shanmugam noted that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) had evaluated Singapore’s legal and institutional framework, finding it strong with stringent licensing controls, effective detection and supervision, interagency coordination, data sharing, and swift law enforcement when criminal activities are exposed.
The fact that the ten arrested individuals are believed to have originated from China has raised concerns among other Chinese nationals in Singapore, but Mr Shanmugam reassured that those engaged in lawful businesses and bringing in lawful funds should not worry.
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