Singapore authorities seized or froze assets worth more than S$2.8 billion ($2 billion) in one of the city-state’s largest money laundering investigations, a senior official said on Tuesday while signaling the government could tighten immigration rules to curb illicit inflows.
(Bloomberg) — Singapore authorities seized or froze assets worth more than S$2.8 billion ($2 billion) in one of the city-state’s largest money laundering investigations, a senior official said on Tuesday while signaling the government could tighten immigration rules to curb illicit inflows.
The amount disclosed to parliament by Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo is higher than the S$2.4 billion previously announced. The assets included 152 properties, 62 vehicles, thousands of bottles of liquor, cryptocurrencies, gold bars and jewellery.
The probe, which saw 10 foreigners with Chinese origins charged in August for alleged forgery and laundering proceeds from scams and illegal online gambling, is ongoing, she said. The city-state will review how to tighten its immigration verification checks, though “the crooks will still try to find a way around,” said Teo.
“Singapore takes money laundering seriously,” the minister said. “We do not turn a blind eye to any risks, once we become aware of them.”
Teo denied the probe was at the behest of China. “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 interests,” she said.
Singapore has long capitalized on its reputation for clean governance and zero tolerance for crime to attract foreign investments and the well-to-do. The city-state is working with international counterparts and local regulators will take action against those who have fallen short, said Teo, who also heads the Ministry for Communications and Information.
Singapore is also looking into how one or more of the accused may have been linked to single family offices with incentives, and will tighten the rules where necessary. An inter-ministry panel will also be set up to enhance safeguards against money laundering.
The case is shining a light on fund flows from abroad and whether the $2 trillion financial sector driving the city-state’s economy as well as its property sector have done enough to block dubious transactions. Teo said the authorities had caught wind of the use of suspected forged documents to substantiate sources of funds back in 2021 and launched a comprehensive probe early the following year.
Singapore has seen an influx of affluent Asians, including those from China, seeking safe investments amid crackdowns in the mainland and pandemic restrictions.
Cross-border wealth inflows into Singapore totaled $1.5 trillion last year, according to an estimate by Boston Consulting Group. This makes the country the world’s third largest offshore financial hub after Switzerland and Hong Kong where the wealthy park their assets.
“This police investigation has strengthened our reputation as a serious, high quality financial center, and for law and order,” Teo said.
At least 240 individuals were convicted of money laundering offenses from 2020 to 2022 with the police seizing more than S$1.2 billion worth of assets, she added.
Banks in the wealthy island-nation are increasing scrutiny of some Chinese-born clients with other citizenships.
“Criminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated,” Indranee Rajah, Second Minister for Finance, told parliament. “Even as we identify new areas to tighten, criminals will invariably find new loopholes to exploit.”
–With assistance from Yi Wei Wong, Faris Mokhtar, Aradhana Aravindan and Low De Wei.
(Adds probe into role of some single family offices in seventh paragraph.)
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