After freezing more than $2 billion, Singapore’s anti-money laundering agency is in the spotlight after uncovering an alleged money-laundering ring.
The frozen assets include about $734 million in products seized in mid-August by police consisting of “stacks of cash“, more than 110 properties, 62 vehicles, 68 gold bars and hundreds of luxury goods such as handbags from major luxury brands including Hermes, Chanel and Prada, watches and jewellery. In addition, bank accounts and cryptocurrencies were frozen.
The fallout from one of the largest money laundering cases sent shockwaves through the city-state which is racing to repair its image. Despite the country’s strict financial regulations, Singapore is addressing concerns about how an organisation that allegedly laundered money from overseas, related to criminal activities and forgeries, was able to operate for such a long time.
Ten individuals, aged between 31 and 44 from Cyprus, Turkey, China, Cambodia and Vanuatu, were arrested following the raid on 15 August 2023. “All the persons involved are neither Singapore citizens nor permanent residents,” the Singapore Police Force stated.
Appearing in court via video link, bail was denied for the ten suspects. One of the plaintiffs, Su Haijin, a Cypriot national, was declared an “extremely high” flight risk. Deputy Public Prosecutor Eric Hu emphasised that Su reportedly has Cambodian and Turkish passports apart from Cypriot and Chinese. “This case is one of the most serious, if not the worst, money laundering case in Singapore,” he added.
Considering the alarming rise of illicit activities in the city-state, Members of Parliament filed a total of 30 parliamentary questions on the effectiveness of measures and whether more decisive action is needed to curb illicit practices. At the beginning of October, Singapore claimed that it would be reviewing its legal framework over financial crimes, amid an ongoing analysis of the largest-ever money laundering case of the Asian financial hub. The government also noted the need for an inter-ministerial panel to address the problems of the country’s financial system.
“The large volumes of financial transactions that flow through our borders can make it harder for regulators to sift out illicit transactions,” stated Woo Jun Jie, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies at the National University of Singapore.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore, the state’s financial regulator, stated it takes the situation seriously and has been in touch with the financial institutions “where the potentially tainted funds have been identified.”
In the 2,5 months since the scandal emerged, the luxury housing market took a hit as a consequence of the scandal. According to Lewis Cha, the executive director for List Sotheby’s International Realty, “the recent anti-money laundering blitz by the Singapore Police Force has tainted the luxury property market.” He continued, “it will take a while for the dust to settle and for the market to forget this negative image of luxury real estate.”
Given the multi-sectoral nature of money laundering and terrorism financing, the country implemented a “whole-of-government approach” to tackle the issue. “Singapore takes money laundering seriously,” said Josephine Teo, Second Minister for Home Affairs of Singapore. “We do not turn a blind eye to any risks once we become aware of them. This is not the first time we have taken serious enforcement action against money laundering offences. Nor will it be the last,” she added.
Article by Fatima Abuzar.
Editing by Anrike Visser.
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