SINGAPORE: In her ministerial statement to Parliament on Monday (3 Oct), Josephine Teo, Singapore’s Second Minister for Home Affairs, firmly dismissed speculations from both international and local news outlets.
She asserted that the police operation was in no way orchestrated by China and clarified that Singapore enforces its own laws, acting solely in its national interests.
“There has been some speculation circulating in news outlets internationally and domestically that this operation was carried out at the behest of China. This is completely untrue, ” she said.
“Singapore does not need another country to tell us what to do to enforce our laws nor will we do anything unless it is in our own interest.”
She went on to explain that the investigation was initiated due to suspected offenses occurring within Singapore.
This led to the arrest and charging of ten individuals for various crimes, including money laundering, forgery, resisting arrest, and perverting the course of justice.
Mrs Teo disclosed that many individuals not yet arrested are actively assisting in ongoing investigations, although she did not specify the exact number.
Reportedly, at least two of the apprehended suspects are wanted by Chinese authorities, and an additional 24 suspects were named in a Law Ministry notice distributed in late August.
The criminal proceeds linked to Singapore’s S$2.8 billion money laundering case, likely stem from activities outside Singapore, encompassing illegal money gambling, illegal online gambling, and unlicensed money lending.
Additional charges include forgery, with two of the individuals facing further charges of resisting arrest and perverting justice. Many others are actively cooperating with investigations, while some are sought by the police but not currently in Singapore.
Regarding the handling of seized assets, PAP MP Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim inquired, and Ms Teo clarified that disposal would adhere to Singaporean laws, potentially conducted by the courts based on findings.
various sectoral regulators, including government agencies overseeing corporate service providers, real estate agents, and financial institutions, are conducting ongoing probes.
She said Police collaborate closely with these regulators and will take action against companies and individuals involved in criminal offenses, including abetment of money laundering and non-compliance with anti-money laundering requirements.
Regarding immigration status, Mrs Teo disclosed that at the time of their applications for employment and dependant’s passes, the ten suspects were not listed on Interpol’s red notice.
She addressed concerns about foreign nationals’ entry and residency in Singapore, emphasizing that ongoing investigations encompass a broad spectrum, including Singaporeans, permanent residents, and individuals on various immigration passes.
Ms Teo underscored that anyone found complicit in wrongdoing will face legal consequences, regardless of their immigration status or citizenship.
“Anyone who is eventually found complicit in the wrongdoing after ongoing investigations will be dealt with in accordance with the law, regardless of their immigration status, or whether they are Singapore citizens,” she said.
Josephine Teo emphasized Singapore’s commitment to a strong rule of law and transparency, highlighting its global standing as the third-ranked financial center behind New York and London.
She stressed that Singapore’s reputation for financial integrity attracts international investments and facilitates economic growth, contributing significantly to the country’s GDP.
Mrs Teo informed the legislative body that, given Singapore’s status as a prominent financial hub, the recent anti-money laundering operation is not an isolated incident.
She illustrated this point by referring to previous cases, such as the 1MDB investigation, where the police conducted extensive inquiries into individuals suspected of committing offences within Singapore.
Simultaneously, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) conducted a comprehensive examination of the financial institutions involved in the fund flows.
In the 1MDB case, enforcement measures included the seizure and prohibition of assets exceeding S$240 million.
Notably, four bankers faced prosecution, including Yeo Jiawei, a former BSI banker who received a four-and-a-half-year jail sentence in July 2017 for charges related to money laundering and cheating.
Another noteworthy example cited by Mrs Teo was the Wirecard fraud scandal originating from Germany. Singapore saw three banks and an insurer being penalized a total of S$3.8 million for their failure to conduct proper customer due diligence and establish the sources of wealth for high-risk customers.
In response, seven individuals were charged in court, with three of them convicted for various offences, including money laundering.
Josephine Teo emphasizes Singapore’s robust anti-money laundering strategy
Teo highlighted the three prongs of Singapore’s anti-money laundering strategy, including prevention, detection, and enforcement.
She stressed the importance of gatekeepers, such as financial institutions and designated non-financial businesses and professions (DNFBPs), in complying with anti-money laundering requirements.
Mrs Teo also discussed the Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) regime and the legal obligation for various entities to report suspicious transactions.
Regarding high-value assets, she explained that while certain sectors like precious stones and precious metals are regulated under the law, others, like luxury cars, bags, and ornaments, are currently not regulated.
She emphasized that Singapore continuously reviews its anti-money laundering practices to reduce risks and take prompt enforcement action against wrongdoings.
Charity donations scrutinized in light of Singapore’s money laundering probe
Edward Chia, PAP MP for Holland–Bukit Timah GRC raised a question concerning whether certain charities were being investigated for receiving donations.
In response, Josephine Teo clarified in Parliament that some charities had voluntarily chosen to ring-fence these donations, while others had taken the initiative to make police reports and intended to surrender the funds to the police.
“The Commissioner of Charities will issue an advisory to encourage all charities to review their donor records to ascertain whether they have received donations from the arrested individuals and entities linked to them, and file the requisite suspicion suspicious transaction reports (STR).”
Additionally, the advisory would provide guidance to charities on how to handle these funds.
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