Singapore Charges Ex-Banker Following 1MDB Probeby
Formal charges among the first to stem from 1MDB probe
Singapore said in March authorities were reviewing fund flows
Singapore authorities have charged a former private banker with money laundering, following their probe into an embattled Malaysian state investment fund, according to people familiar with the case.
Yeo Jiawei, a former wealth planner at the Singapore arm of Swiss private bank BSI SA, was charged on April 16, said the people. While the charge made no mention of 1Malaysia Development Bhd., they stemmed from investigations into the fund’s money flows, the people said. Singapore’s Attorney-General’s Chambers on Friday confirmed Yeo’s identity and the charge.
The charges raise the stakes in the inquiries taking place across the globe into the affairs of 1MDB, whose advisory board is headed by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak. Authorities in Malaysia, Switzerland, the U.S. and Luxembourg are examining claims the development fund was used to funnel money to politically-connected individuals. The Swiss estimate that about $4 billion may have been misappropriated from state companies in the Southeast Asian nation. They have said Najib is not a target. A Malaysian parliamentary committee identified at least $4.2 billion of irregular transactions by the fund.
Both 1MDB and the premier have consistently denied wrongdoing. The Malaysian attorney general’s office in January cleared Najib of any wrongdoing in receiving donations from the Saudi royal family amid earlier reports by media including the Wall Street Journal that the money came instead from entities linked to 1MDB. It has at least twice rejected the country’s central bank’s request for criminal proceedings against 1MDB.
Yeo, 33, had proposed investment products to 1MDB, and was questioned as part of Singapore’s probe, people familiar with the matter had said.
A Singapore court on Friday ordered that Yeo be held without bail until April 28. Yeo appeared via video link and said he’d been kept in an isolated cell since he was held.
Yeo said he understands the charge is for money laundering and is related to cheating.
“Who have I cheated? Till today I do not understand why is this charge on me, so please let me have my lawyer,” Yeo said to the judge. “I am just a banker.”
Yeo’s lawyer, Philip Fong, asked the judge to grant Yeo the "fundamental right" to counsel and said Yeo had been cooperating with the police since he was investigated in October and will continue to do so. Yeo isn’t a flight risk as he has family in Singapore and is willing to cooperate further with the authorities, Fong said.
The judge denied Yeo’s request for access to counsel.
The probe underway involves staggering amounts of money and Yeo played a significant role in moving it, Kwek Mean Luck, second solicitor-general, said on behalf of the prosecution. “This is without a doubt the most complex cross border investigation that the Commercial Affairs Department has done,” he said.
The case involves multiple transactions, multiple entities in several jurisdictions as well as sensitive information, Kwek said, though he didn’t provide more details about the probe.
Yeo was charged under Singapore’s Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes Act. If found guilty, he may be jailed for as long as 10 years and fined as much as S$500,000 ($371,000). It’s not uncommon for Singapore prosecutors to amend or add charges as an investigation unfolds. The Attorney-General’s office declined to give further details as the investigations are ongoing.
Regulators have questioned international banks on their ties with the Malaysian fund, with BSI and its Singapore arm emerging as one of the most intertwined with 1MDB. The Lugano, Switzerland-based BSI handled accounts for 1MDB and parties including Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJSC, an entity the fund did business with, and Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, according to documents entered into a Singapore court as part of an effort by another former BSI private banker to unfreeze assets.
Aabar hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. Low has had ties to 1MDB, which he’s described to newspapers as informal consulting work that didn’t break any laws.
The court documents were revealed when former BSI banker Yak Yew Chee attempted to access money that had been frozen by authorities probing the fund flows. Yak left BSI in February, according to a bank spokeswoman. He was one of several senior employees who have left, or are said to be leaving the Singapore unit in recent months. Those departures include the three members of the bank committee that vetted major new clients at a time when money flowed in from 1MDB. None of the three have been accused of wrongdoing. Yeo left BSI in mid-2014, according to a person familiar with the matter.
On March 31, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said that as part of its investigations related to 1MDB, it has been conducting a “thorough review of various transactions as well as fund flows” through its banking system. Singapore, which in March 2015 said it was assisting in Malaysia’s probe of 1MDB, is also working closely with authorities in other financial centers.