SINGAPORE: Singapore’s Second Minister for Home Affairs, Josephine Teo, declined to confirm whether Chinese authorities have assisted in uncovering the landmark S$2.8 billion money laundering case.
She reiterated that she is not at liberty to disclose the foreign law enforcement agencies cooperating with Singapore at the moment, adding that the cooperation could involve more than one jurisdiction, and it is not unusual for Singapore to collaborate with various law enforcement agencies beyond China.
Minister Teo responded to a supplementary question posed by Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim during a parliamentary session on Tuesday (3 Oct).
In her initial speech, Minister Teo mentioned a red flag that alerted authorities to this billion-dollar money laundering case. She disclosed that in 2021, several suspicious transaction reports (STRs) were filed by financial institutions and other companies.
Ms Lim, a Member of Parliam inquired about the industries from which these other companies originated, whether they included property agencies or law firms, and whether these suspicious transaction reports were related to this case.
Ms Lim also noted that some of the arrested and charged individuals were reportedly wanted by Chinese police authorities for their alleged involvement in organized crime activities.
She asked whether Chinese authorities were assisting in the Singapore investigation and whether there were indications that Chinese parties would claim any of the seized assets or funds in Singapore.
Minister Teo explained that the suspicious transaction reports in 2021 came from various gatekeepers, including banks, corporate service providers, and real estate agents.
“So that’s a variety (of gatekeepers), and as to whether we connect the dots only using STRs, the answer is no.”
She mentioned that intelligence exchange on suspicious transactions with foreign counterparts is routine but refrained from specifying details in this case.
Minister Teo added that it is premature to reveal more but emphasized that such intelligence exchange is not unusual.
“Keep in mind also that there will be other sources of intelligence. The police interact with a wide surface, and these can also help to form a picture as to what is going on.”
Ms Lim pressed Minister Teo for confirmation on whether Chinese police authorities were assisting Singapore in the investigation and whether there were indications of specific claims related to this case.
Minister Teo reiterated her inability to disclose the foreign law enforcement agencies involved.
“Suffice to say that there would be a variety because the proceeds that potentially have been laundered through the Singapore system involve activities that were carried outside of Singapore.”
“They could involve more than one jurisdiction. As we cast our net wide,
it would not be unusual or unthinkable for us to be cooperating with other
law enforcement agencies, not confined to one country China.”
Minister Teo’s comments in Parliament leave questions on Chinese authorities’ Involvement unresolved
Based on Minister Teo’s statements in Parliament, she did not outrightly deny Chinese authorities’ involvement in the high-profile case but acknowledged the existence of additional sources of intelligence.
This contrasts with Minister Teo’s previous statements during her Ministerial address to Parliament on the same day, where she unequivocally refuted 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.”
“In this case, we started investigations because we suspected that offences had been committed in Singapore. Once we confirmed our suspicions, we acted. ”
CAD, initially unaware of key suspect Vang Suiming’s US$2.8 million crypto assets, received a tip-off from “foreign authorities”
On September 29th, in a court session, the court learned 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 the S$2.8 billion case.
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.
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.
In early September, 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.
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.
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