SINGAPORE: Second Minister for Finance and National Development, Indranee Rajah, clarified that none of the properties subjected to prohibition orders in the S$2.8 billion money laundering case are mainland landed residential properties, which have stricter approval criteria.
“The rest are non-landed units, which can be purchased by foreigners. Hence, the requirements of the Residential Property Act had been met,” Ms Indranee noted.
Ms Indranee told the Singapore Parliament on Monday (3 Oct) that among the seized assets, 94 are residential properties.
Of these, 60 are completed resale units, and 34 are uncompleted units directly sold by developers.
Additionally, eight of these residential properties are landed homes in Sentosa Cove, exempt from foreign ownership restrictions. Prohibition orders also extended to 53 commercial and five industrial properties.
Authorities have issued prohibition of disposal orders affecting 152 properties and 62 vehicles, totaling an estimated value exceeding $1.24 billion.
These orders prevent the sale of these assets, resulting in a total linked asset value surpassing $2.8 billion.
Investigations into property agencies and agents involved in transactions linked to the money laundering probe are ongoing, with Ms Indranee emphasizing that necessary regulatory action will be taken if any breaches are found.
Necessary regulatory action will be taken if any breaches are found, she said.
Foreigners’ landed home ownership
He Ting Ru, Workers’ Party MP for Sengkang GRC asked the Minister on the Government’s considerations in allowing foreigners to buy landed homes in Singapore.
In response, Ms Indranee stated that the number of approvals under the Residential Property Act remains low.
In 2022, 34 approvals were granted, with 51 in 2021 and 24 in 2020. In contrast, over the same period, there were an average of 2,700 landed property transactions on the mainland.
Ms He also inquired about the criteria for foreign nationals to meet the “exceptional economic contribution.”
Ms Indranee, who also holds the position of Second Minister for Finance, emphasized the government’s rigorous approach in granting such approvals.
Applicants for foreign ownership of landed property must have been Singapore PRs for at least five years and have made an exceptional economic contribution, such as through income tax payments.
Another vital consideration is whether applicants have a “strong Singapore nexus.”
For instance, this category encompasses PRs with children who have completed national service and individuals who have shown a strong commitment to Singapore.
Ms Indranee highlighted that these factors indicate an applicant’s connection to Singapore and their long-term commitment and contributions to the nation.
Ms Indranee also revealed that the Singapore Land Authority received 88 applications from foreigners seeking to purchase landed properties in Sentosa Cove over the past three years. The majority of these applications were approved.
Approvals are typically granted to foreigners who are not PRs, as the development of the island was primarily aimed at an international clientele.
Ms Indranee clarified that the eight properties subjected to prohibition of disposal orders are located in Sentosa Cove, and the rest are non-landed units. None of them are mainland landed homes.
Foreign ownership of non-landed residential homes faces no restrictions, as mainland landed residential properties are primarily reserved for Singaporeans.
The proportion of foreign property purchases remains low, around 2%.
Ms Indranee noted that additional buyer’s stamp duty rates for foreigners were increased from 30% to 60% in April to discourage local and foreign investment, prioritizing Singaporean owner-occupation.
Ms. Indranee also outlined the progressively strengthened measures in the property sector to combat money laundering.
In 2021, prescribed duties for property agents were legislated, and in 2023, anti-money laundering requirements were extended to developers of residential, commercial, and industrial properties.
Property agents, agencies, and developers serve as the first line of defense against money laundering in the real estate sector.
As gatekeepers, they are obligated to conduct thorough customer due diligence checks on clients, including identity verification, screenings, risk assessment, and record maintenance.
Anyone with knowledge or reasonable grounds to suspect a property’s connection to criminal conduct is required to file a suspicious transaction report. This responsibility extends to property agents, agencies, developers, landlords, conveyancing lawyers, accountants, and financial institutions.
Non-compliance may result in regulatory action. Conveyancing lawyers and accountants are also required to conduct customer due diligence checks for any real estate-related transactions.
Developers are prohibited from accepting cash payments for sales of uncompleted properties.
Ms Indranee noted that the real estate sector employs several layers of defence to mitigate money laundering risks and safeguard the system from abuse.
The vast majority of transactions undergo various checks at different stages, and gatekeepers who fail in their duties may face penalties.
In terms of enforcement, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) oversees property agents and agencies, while the Urban Redevelopment Authority regulates developers, ensuring gatekeepers fulfil their responsibilities effectively.
Money laundering probe sparks questions on suspects’ residency and property holdings
The S$2.8 billion high-profile money laundering case has reverberated across the entire island, raising questions about the extended residency of certain suspects in Singapore and their substantial acquisition of local properties with significant wealth.
In June last year, Lianhe Zaobao reported that a Chinese buyer from Fujian acquired 20 units in bulk at CanningHill Piers for an estimated S$85 million.
The 20 units include 10 3-room flats priced between $3.1 million and $3.3 million, and 10 4-room units priced between $5.3 million and $5.6 million.
Police investigations revealed that Vang (or Wang Shui Ming), a 42-year-old Turkish national originally from Fujian, had over S$200 million in assets confiscated by authorities, which included a staggering S$962,000 in cash discovered at his residence.
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