SINGAPORE, SINGAPORE — Singapore defended its reputation as a global financial hub on Tuesday after a massive money laundering case crossed US$2 billion in seized and frozen assets, with a senior minister saying it was likely among the world’s biggest.
The scale of the investigation has exposed potential loopholes in the city-state’s anti-money laundering laws that crime syndicates could exploit, prompting questions in parliament on why it was not detected sooner.
“This case is a reminder that even the most stringent preventive measures can be circumvented by determined criminals,” Second Home Affairs Minister Josephine Teo said in a speech to lawmakers in parliament.
Authorities have seized and frozen assets now worth more than S$2.8 billion (US$2.04 billion) in a series of raids since August against the suspected international money laundering ring, said Teo.
Police arrested 10 foreign nationals — from China, Turkey, Cambodia, Cyprus and Vanuatu -– accused of being members of the ring suspected of laundering proceeds from overseas criminal activity including scams and online gambling.
All 10 are originally from China.
More arrests and asset seizures are expected as police continue with their investigation, Teo said.
Last month Singaporean police said they had seized and frozen more than US$1.76 billion worth of assets in sweeping raids but those have since grown by hundreds of millions.
Teo said the latest trove included 152 properties, 62 vehicles, thousands of bottles of liquor and wine, cash, cryptocurrencies, gold bars, luxury bags and watches and expensive pieces of jewellery.
Police first received “disparate information” about suspicious transactions in 2021, including the use of suspected forged documents to support sources of funds, and began conducting raids after they had collected much more evidence, she said.
It was not only one of the biggest anti-money laundering cases in Singapore but also “likely the world”, Teo told MPs.
An average of 43,000 suspicious transactions were reported annually in Singapore between 2020 and 2022, or more than 150 per working day, she said.
Reports that China had put any pressure on Singapore to resolve the case were “completely untrue,” she added.
Second Minister of Finance Indranee Rajah said an inter-ministerial committee will be formed “to keep our regime up to date with increasingly sophisticated crimes”.
Alvin Tan, a minister of state for trade, said some of the accused may have been linked to family offices — entities that manage the controlling assets of one family — that were granted tax incentives.
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