Singapore authorities have recently uncovered one of the largest money laundering cases in the world, with assets seized or issued with prohibition of disposal orders amounting to over $2.8 billion.
The investigation was initiated in 2021 after suspected forged documents were used to substantiate the sources of funds in bank accounts.
Following an extensive probe in 2022, the police uncovered a network of individuals, some connected by family ties, who were allegedly transferring money earned through criminal activities from abroad.
HOW IT STARTED :
On August 15, islandwide raids were conducted, resulting in the arrest and charging of nine men and one woman with offenses including money laundering and forgery.
This information was shared by Mrs. Teo during an update on the case in the House. The value of seized or frozen assets has now exceeded S$2.8 billion (US$2.03 billion), which is almost triple the initial amount of S$1 billion.
This makes it one of the largest anti-money laundering operations not just in Singapore, but potentially in the world. During the session, Mrs. Teo answered questions from MPs regarding any red flags prior to the arrests and whether the suspects would be investigated for criminal offenses in other jurisdictions.
Mrs. Teo explained that intelligence gathering and planning for such a significant operation can take months or even years. In 2021, the police received various pieces of information, including the use of suspected forged documents to support the sources of funds in Singaporean bank accounts.
Additionally, financial institutions and other companies filed suspicious transaction alerts, prompting separate investigations by the police.
The case is currently before the courts, and investigations are ongoing to uncover further individuals involved in the alleged money laundering operation. The assets seized include a staggering 152 properties and 62 vehicles, with an estimated value of more than $1.24 billion.
Mrs Teo gave an update on the total value of assets seized or issued with prohibition of disposal orders.
On 20 Sept, he police had that the total value of the seized asset at more than S$2.4 billion. Since then, they have conducted “further operations and extensive investigations”, bringing the figure up to more than S$2.8 billion, said Mrs Teo.
Additionally, there is money in bank accounts amounting to over $1.45 billion, cash of various currencies worth over $76 million, thousands of bottles of liquor and wine, cryptocurrency worth more than $38 million, 68 gold bars, 294 luxury bags, 164 branded watches, and 546 pieces of jewelry.
- Prohibition of disposal orders issued against 152 properties and 62 vehicles with a total estimated value of more than S$1.24 billion.
As police investigations are ongoing, more arrests could be made and more assets could be seized, Mrs Too added.
The police are also working closely with sectoral regulators and will take action against companies and individuals if they have broken the law, such as by abetting money laundering, Mrs Teo further added.
According to the Minister for Home Affairs, Josephine Teo, there may be more arrests made and assets seized as the investigation progresses. She emphasized that the investigation was solely based on suspicions of criminal offenses committed in Singapore and denied any involvement or influence from another country.
The ongoing investigation mentioned by Mrs. Teo involves several individuals who are cooperating with the authorities. However, there are also individuals wanted by the police who are currently outside of Singapore.
The investigation started earlier this year when the police assessed that they had enough information to consult the Attorney-General’s Chambers. The Chambers determined that there was sufficient reason to suspect criminal offenses had been committed in Singapore.
As a result, the police arrested 10 suspects at their residences in various areas of Singapore. The raids took place at Good Class Bungalows, condominiums, and a landed property, involving over 400 police officers from different divisions.
The 10 suspects have been charged in court with money laundering offenses and have been remanded after being denied bail. Some of them also face charges of forgery, while two have been charged with resisting arrest and perverting the course of justice. All of the suspects are of Chinese origin but have nationalities and passports ranging from Cyprus to Cambodia.
Mrs. Teo emphasized that speculation about the police operation being carried out at the behest of China is completely untrue, stating that Singapore does not need another country to enforce its laws and only acts in its own interests. She also mentioned that there are others who have not been arrested but are assisting with investigations, as well as individuals wanted by the police who are not currently in Singapore.
However, she did not provide specific details about the number of individuals involved or further information about the investigation.
Mrs. Teo also revealed that a number of those arrested had made donations to charities in Singapore. Some charities have voluntarily decided to ringfence these donations, while others have made police reports and plan to surrender the funds to the authorities.
The Commissioner of Charities will issue an advisory to encourage all charities to review their donor records and file suspicious transaction reports if necessary. The advisory will also provide guidance on how to handle the donated funds.
“We probed extensively to uncover the linkages. We were comprehensive in our actions and operation”.
Describing this case as one of the largest anti-money laundering operations in the world, Mrs. Teo stated, “We will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action against people who would use Singapore as a haven to launder proceeds of crime. We will deal with them and their ill-gotten gains to the fullest extent of our laws.”
Mrs Teo told during Parliament sitting that as a major financial hub, this is not the first or last time that Singapore has taken serious enforcement action against money laundering offences.
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