Singapore Says More Overseas Criminals Seek Bank Accounts

Singapore prosecuted a record number of money laundering cases and seized more than S$115 million ($92 million) of suspected criminal proceeds in 2013 as more overseas offenders seek out bank accounts in the city.

“Singapore’s openness as an international transport hub and financial center exposes it to cross-border money-laundering and terrorist financing risks,” Tan Boon Gin, director of the Commercial Affairs Department, said in the agency’s annual report posted on its website. “We are seeing a trend of overseas criminals seeking to launder money through Singapore bank accounts.”

The city’s white-collar police has tripled its financial investigation resources with an increase in suspicious transaction reports and aid requests from overseas enforcement agencies. Organized crime groups are getting more sophisticated and taking advantage of opportunities as Singapore’s financial industry expands, the agency said.

The agency received 22,417 suspicious transactions reports in 2013, a 25 percent increase from a year earlier, according to the report. It provided financial intelligence to foreign agencies in 341 instances, up from 160 in 2012. The financial police received 164 overseas requests for assistance. More than S$65 million of suspected criminal proceeds were seized in the preceding year, according to the agency’s 2012 annual report.

Anti-Money Laundering

Li Huabo, a former Chinese government official accused of a 94 million yuan ($15 million) fraud in his home country, was sentenced to 15 months in jail after the suspicious transaction reporting unit received information on remittances into their Singapore bank accounts, according to the report. Li is appealing his verdict.

Singapore is boosting its anti-money laundering rules in line with global regulations following U.S. authorities’ probe of several Swiss banks for their dealings on behalf of American clients. The Asian city plans to regulate virtual-currency intermediaries including operators of Bitcoin exchanges and vending machines to address money laundering risks and may boost rules for remittance agents and money changers.

The Commercial Affairs Department has also set up a unit to investigate fraud where the victim is a public company as recent events in the stock market suggest an increase in the scale and complexity of market abuse.

The white-collar agency and the central bank are investigating suspected share-trading irregularities after a penny stock rout in October erased $6.9 billion in market value.

The enforcement scope of the agency will also increase with Singapore’s plan to criminalize the rigging of financial benchmarks, the police said.