By Xinghui Kok
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Singapore said it was expecting more arrests and seizures as the Asian financial hub investigates one of its biggest cases of suspected money laundering, in which the value of assets seized now stands at S$2.8 billion ($2 billion).
Simultaneous raids in mid-August by authorities of the city state known for its low crime rate led to the arrest of 10 foreigners and the seizure of luxury properties, cars, gold bars, designer handbags and jewellery worth S$1 billion.
“This case is a reminder that even the most stringent preventive measures can be circumvented by determined criminals,” Josephine Teo, the second minister for home affairs, told parliament on Tuesday.
The government will set up an inter-ministerial panel to review the anti-money laundering regime, reflecting learning points drawn from the case, she said.
She was one of three cabinet ministers responding to almost 60 questions filed by lawmakers on the case.
Indranee Rajah, the second minister for finance, will chair the inter-ministerial committee comprising political office holders from the central bank and the home affairs, law, manpower and trade ministries.
They will review four areas: Preventing corporate structures from being abused; getting financial institutions to collaborate with each other and with authorities; getting third party players like real estate agents to guard against money laundering; improving detection capabilities.
The government said it was inspecting financial institutions suspected of involvement in the case and would launch enforcement action against any of them, and their staff, if they were found to have breached central bank requirements.
Agencies are also reviewing processes that include the central bank’s approval for family offices to get tax incentives, and to consider regulating high value assets such as luxury cars and bags.
Any changes, however, should not “end up unduly inconveniencing legitimate businesses and customers”, said Teo.
The case had been on the radar of police since 2021, after the filing of suspicious transaction reports by financial institutions, Teo said.
She dismissed as “completely untrue” speculation in local and international news outlets that the operation was carried out at the behest of China.
“We started investigations because we suspected that offences had been committed in Singapore,” Teo added. “Once we confirmed our suspicions, we acted.”
(Reporting by Xinghui Kok; Editing by Martin Petty, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)