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S$1 billion money laundering case: Singapore MPs filed 32 questions

The MPs questions ranged from Singapore's anti-money laundering initiatives to eligibility checks on foreign nationals.

Luxury items and assets seized during raids conducted by the Singapore Police Force across Singapore, illustrating a story on money laundering.
A total of 32 parliamentary questions were filed in relation to the recent money laundering case involving 10 foreign nationals and S$1 billion worth of assets. (PHOTO: Singapore Police Force)

SINGAPORE — Members of Parliament (MP) in Singapore filed a total of 32 questions on anti-money laundering initiatives in light of the recent money laundering case where 10 foreign nationals were arrested and about S$1 billion in assets seized.

The list of questions ranged from anti-money laundering initiatives by the government to data on past suspicious transaction reports (STRs).

In response to the queries by MPs from the People's Action Party (PAP), Workers' Party (WP), and Non-Constituency MPs from the Progress Singapore Party (PSP), Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said that the Ministry of Home Affairs, together with various other ministries, will respond to the queries in a ministerial statement in October.

Money laundering case

On 15 August, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) conducted islandwide raids which led to the arrest of 10 foreign nationals for their suspected involvement in forgery and money laundering.

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The raids, which were one of the city state's largest anti-money laundering operations, also resulted in the collective seizure of about S$1 billion worth of assets. This included 35 bank accounts with a total estimated balance of more than S$110 million and cash amounting to more than S$23 million. Prohibition of disposal orders were issued against 94 properties and 50 vehicles, with a total estimated value of more than S$815 million.

Additionally, more than 250 luxury bags and watches, more than 120 electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones, more than 270 pieces of jewellery, two gold bars, and 11 documents with information on virtual assets were also seized.

All 10 suspects are currently facing trial.

Questions on anti-money laundering initiatives

1. MP Patrick Tay (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how have recent offences including forgery and money laundering with an estimated value of about S$1 billion in cash and various assets come about in such magnitude despite Singapore's robust laws and anti-money laundering frameworks; and (b) what is being done to prevent future recurrence of such cases. Tay also asked what more can be done to prevent individuals under false identities or with criminal intent to conduct cross-border organised crimes from obtaining work, employment, or dependant passes.

2. MP Foo Mee Har (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how has the recent high-profile money laundering probe affected Singapore’s reputation as a leading wealth management hub; and (b) how does Singapore's efforts to combat money laundering compare with other leading wealth management jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Switzerland and the US.

3. MP Desmond Choo (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how have surveillance and international partnerships between MAS and other regulators helped to prevent and take down money laundering syndicates; and (b) what are the further plans to strengthen Singapore’s anti-money laundering systems.

4. MP Joan Pereira (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs whether Singapore is working towards full compliance on recommendations 22 and 23 of the Financial Action Task Force for designated non-financial businesses and professions such as real estate agents, dealers of precious metals and stones, legal and accounting professionals and trust and company service providers.

Questions on reviewing existing anti-money laundering measures

1. MP Saktiandi Supaat (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how does MAS (Monetary Authority of Singapore) identify suspicious transaction reports to be indicators of a wider network of unlawful activity; (b) whether the existing detection measures in our financial system can be supplemented and enhanced to build our anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing reputation; and (c) how does Singapore's measures across MAS and other relevant agencies currently compare with other jurisdictions such as the US, UK, Australia, Hong Kong and UAE.

2. MP Hany Soh (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs whether the Ministry will review current AML (anti-money laundering) laws to determine whether any amendments or enhancements are required to prevent similar cases in future. She also asked whether the Council of Estate Agencies has reviewed the Customer Due Diligence measures that salespersons are required to undertake on their customers to determine whether the measures are sufficiently robust to prevent recurrences.

Questions on Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs)

1. MP Ng Ling Ling (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how many STRs have been made by financial institutions about suspicious activities in each of the past three years; and (b) how many of such reports have resulted in the Singapore Police Force mounting a formal investigation.

2. MP Sylvia Lim (WP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs what is the extent to which STRs are useful in uncovering suspected money laundering activities.

3. MP Dennis Tan (WP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the authorities are satisfied with the effectiveness of STRs filed in the past few years; and (b) if not, whether there will be enhancements to improve on the effectiveness of the STR or the early scrutiny of all STRs filed.

4. MP Louis Chua (WP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) in each of the last five years, what proportion of real estate transactions reported to the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office have been blocked; and (b) whether more can be done to block such transactions in order to better detect and prevent money laundering, terrorism financing and other serious crimes.

Questions on foreign nationals

1. NCMP Leong Mun Wai (PSP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the immigration status of the 10 foreign individuals who have been charged in the S$1 billion money laundering case; and (b) whether foreigners who are convicted of offences are permanently blacklisted from entering Singapore and, if not, why.

2. MP He Ting Ru (WP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs in the granting of approvals to foreign nationals for the purchase of landed residential property (a) whether the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) considers the link to money laundering or suspicious financial activity in its assessment; and (b) what are the considerations in being satisfied that the foreign national had made exceptional economic contribution as part of the criteria.

3. MP Alex Yam (PAP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) how many of the properties issued with the prohibition of disposal orders in the S$1 billion money laundering probe have restrictions on foreign ownership under the Residential Property Act 1976; and (b) how will the ministry ensure that private properties in Singapore are not used to launder illicit money.

4. MP Louis Chua (WP) asked the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what forms of background checks are conducted on foreigners and what are the processes that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has in place before it grants foreigners the approval to purchase landed residential properties in Sentosa Cove; and (b) whether the SLA will review its processes for conducting such checks.

5. NMP Neil Parekh Nimil Rajnikant asked the Minister for Home Affairs what additional steps can be taken to prevent individuals with criminal intent to conduct cross-border organised crimes from obtaining permanent residency under the programmes offered by the Economic Development Board.

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