SINGAPORE: In a recent court ruling, the lead investigating officer (IO) disclosed that over US$2.8 million (S$3.8 million) in cryptocurrencies had been withdrawn from a suspect’s account while he was detained in connection with a S$2.4 billion money-laundering investigation.
Vang Shuiming, a 42-year-old Turkish national originally from Fujian, China, was one of ten individuals arrested during an islandwide raid on 15 August conducted by over 400 officers led by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).
Just two days after Vang was placed in custody, more than US$2.8 million worth of cryptocurrencies were withdrawn from his Binance account.
During the prosecution’s objection to Vang’s bail on September 29th, Teh Yee Liang, representing the Singapore Police Force’s Commercial Affairs Department, informed the court that information suggests assets were moved by a person of interest after the accused had been apprehended.
CAD, initially unaware of Vang’s US$2.8 million crypto assets, received a tip-off from foreign authorities
Mr Teh stated that CAD was initially unaware of these assets and only became aware of them after receiving information from “foreign authorities“.
The total value of cryptocurrency assets is believed to exceed US$30 million, and investigations in this regard are ongoing.
“This further strengthens my belief that the accused has connections and assets to allow him to relocate outside of Singapore, despite the seizure of his local assets, should he be released on bail,” said Mr Teh.
Assets linked to Vang totalling more than S$200 million have been seized in Singapore.
These assets include S$962,000 in cash, S$128.8 million in his bank accounts, S$5.5 million in his wife’s bank accounts, 15 properties worth S$104.8 million in his wife’s name but funded by him, and three vehicles worth S$3.4 million in his wife’s name but funded by him.
Vang currently faces five charges, the most among the ten arrested.
This includes one count of using a forged document and four counts of possessing criminal proceeds worth S$2.4 million from an unlicensed moneylending operation in China.
Vang’s legal representatives from Drew & Napier have been vigorously arguing for bail. Despite these, the court on Friday again denied Vang’s bail considering his “high flight risk” who might have accomplices to help him abscond.
Deputy Public Prosecutor David Koh firmly opposed bail, pointed out that four out of the five charges are non-bailable, and also emphasized the flight risk associated with Vang.
Evidence presented in court indicated that at least a portion of the funds in Vang’s four bank accounts in Singapore originated from an unlicensed moneylending business that Vang operated in China, according to Mr Koh.
Vang Shui Ming and his family relocated to Singapore in 2019
According to DPP Koh, Vang is wanted by Chinese authorities for illegal online gambling, yet he and his family have managed to evade them and relocate to Singapore since 2019.
Interestingly, Vang’s children are currently attending international schools in Singapore. Furthermore, the court learned that Vang’s wife, son, and daughter each hold passports from Türkiye, China, and Vanuatu.
Vang challenged the prosecutor’s assertions, claiming there was no evidence to support allegations of his involvement in moneylending operations in China.
In response, DPP Koh cited multiple reasons for Vang’s potential flight if released on bail, emphasizing that Vang is “adept at evading the law.”
Vang renounced his Chinese citizenship earlier this year
Vang argued through his legal representatives that he had formally renounced his Chinese citizenship on February 16 at the Chinese embassy in Singapore and was not arrested at that time, suggesting that the allegations against him were unfounded.
The prosecutor argued that Vang lacks deep roots in Singapore, as he is neither a citizen nor a permanent resident. He emphasized that Vang uprooted his family in 2019 and could potentially do so again, especially given the serious charges he faces in Singapore.
The court also learned that investigations had uncovered some evidence suggesting Vang’s involvement in the alleged offences.
For instance, he purportedly submitted a forged bank document from China Merchants Bank to Citibank, despite investigations showing that he did not hold an account with China Merchants Bank. However, Vang has remained silent on these allegations.
Defence lawyer Wendell Wong proposed that, in exchange for bail, Vang would surrender all passports of his family members, which had been legally obtained.
To address collusion concerns, Wong recommended imposing a condition prohibiting Vang from contacting known associates.
Wong also indicated that Vang intended to contest the charges in a trial, asserting that it was premature to present the defence’s case during the bail review proceedings.
DPP Koh acknowledged that individuals attempting to escape jurisdiction might not rely on immigration checkpoints and could leave the country illegally.
Despite agreeing with the defence on the presumption of innocence, the prosecutor emphasized that this didn’t preclude the possibility of holding accused individuals in remand.
Following a 2.5-hour court session, District Judge Brenda Tan denied Vang’s bail, and his case is now scheduled for a pre-trial conference on October 27th.
Separately, according to the IO, Vang possesses substantial wealth and assets overseas.
This includes an estimated 32 million yuan (US$4.4 million) invested in Chinese private companies, land plots in Cambodia valued at US$18 million, investments totaling US$500,000 in Turkey, ownership of two condominium units in Xiamen, China, with a combined value of 20 million yuan, HK$2 million held in a Hong Kong bank account, and US$110,000 worth of USDT or Tether tokens.
Vang’s brother is among the eight people wanted by the Singapore police
Vang is also linked to three other wanted suspects who are on the run, including his brother, Wang Shuiting (王水挺).
He is also one of the eight people wanted by the Singapore police in the S$2.4 billion money laundering case.
The police earlier said that 12 indiduals were assisting in investigations in the high-profile case, while eight others were on the run and had been placed on a wanted list.
Wang Shuiting, who is also a member of the Sentosa Golf Club, is wanted by the Chinese authorities for his involvement in the Heng Bo Bao Wang (恒博包网) gambling syndicate, which was uncovered in May 2022.
His brother, Shuiming, is also wanted in China, allegedly for the same reason.
Chinese authorities issued notice to Wang’s Brother on the same day as Singapore’s islandwide raid
Interestingly, On 15 August, the same day the Singapore authorities conducted the islandwide raid, the Boshan Sub-bureau of the Zibo Municipal Public Security Bureau issued a notice urging Wang Shuiming and 9 other individuals to return to the country and surrender themselves.
The Chinese enforcement said they successfully dismantled the Hengbo Online Gambling Group, which was engaged in the development and maintenance of gambling websites, applications, and online gambling platforms for profit.
Chinese police said a total of 131 criminal suspects were arrested, and over 10 million yuan of assets related to the case were seized, frozen, or recovered. As of now, there are still 9 criminal suspects involved in the case illegally staying abroad, including Wang Shuiming and Wang Shuiting.
Public scepticism on China’s role in Singapore’s S$2.4 billion arrests
It’s noteworthy that CAD admitted that they initially had no knowledge of Vang’s cryptocurrency assets and only became aware of them after receiving information from “foreign authorities.”
The prosecutor revealed that “foreign intelligence” efforts have played a pivotal role in uncovering more than US$30 million (equivalent to S$40.8 million) in assets that were previously undisclosed.
Earlier this month, during a Chinese media interview, K Shanmugam, the Minister of Home Affairs and Law, asserted that Singapore’s investigation and subsequent high-profile arrests were not influenced by external events, particularly China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit on August 10th.
Mr Shanmugam emphasized that the investigation had spanned several months. The police meticulously tracked illicit activities within Singapore and abroad, identified the culprits, and closely examined fund flows.
An essential question that needs pressing is regarding the identity of the “foreign authorities” assisting Singapore in the investigation. Did China share vital information with Singapore regarding the case, and if so, when did this exchange take place?
A Twitter post by Vanessa Gao on 16 August claimed that Singapore’s Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) had covertly established a task force about three months prior.
— VanessaCao 🐲 (@vc_btxcap) August 16, 2023
This team was said to have focused on the dealings of these Fujian-origin foreign nationals, tracing covert transactions via Citibank linked to gambling and narcotics.
It’s still a matter of debate as to whether Singapore’s authorities had been surveilling these individuals even before this period, given how the ten arrested had managed to move over S$2.4 billion of assets more than a year before investigations were supposedly initiated.
Linking these elements with Gao’s enigmatic tweet about an impending visit from a team of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security on 21 August, it crafts a story hard for the typical Singaporean to dismiss.
Although Mr Shanmugam refutes foreign meddling in the apprehensions, given the timeline of occurrences and the undeniable connections to China, it’s evident why some Singaporeans sense a deeper narrative.
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