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Singapore Banks Intensify Scrutiny on Customers Amid Money Laundering Scandal

In the aftermath of a staggering S$2.4 billion ($1.8 billion) money-laundering scandal, Singaporean banks have significantly escalated their scrutiny of customers from various countries, redoubling their efforts to trace the origins of wealth. The heightened focus is particularly directed at customers hailing from countries such as China, Vanuatu, Turkey, St Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, and Cyprus.

Singapore Banks Intensify Scrutiny on Customers Amid Money Laundering Scandal

One private banking advisor candidly revealed, "If you have a People’s Republic of China passport, or possess a passport from any of the countries the suspects involved in the probe had, such as Cyprus, Vanuatu or Cambodia, you are getting red-flagged."

This widening probe has extended its reach to include not only banks but also precious metals dealers, real estate agents, and even golf clubs. Concerns have emerged regarding the government's role and the effectiveness of its anti-money laundering (AML) laws in preventing such lapses.

Lenders have informed prospective clients that the waiting period to open a private banking account has lengthened significantly, shifting from less than one month to a potentially arduous three to four months. Additionally, insiders suggest that some existing accounts are being shuttered.

It's important to note that these extended processing times do not signify rule changes but rather underscore Singapore's determination to enforce comprehensive customer due diligence (CDD) measures across its financial sector following the revelation of a transnational money laundering investigation last month.

Recently, authorities announced that the total value of assets seized in Singapore's largest money laundering case has surged to an astonishing S$2.4 billion ($1.76 billion). This cache now encompasses over S$76 million in cash, 68 gold bars, cryptocurrencies valued at more than S$38 million, over 110 properties, and 62 vehicles worth in excess of S$1.2 million.

The specific details of these new seizures and their discovery have not been disclosed by the police.

In the preceding month, 400 police officers conducted simultaneous raids across Singapore, resulting in the apprehension of ten foreigners in a sweeping anti-money laundering operation. The police asserted that these ten individuals were allegedly involved in "laundering the proceeds of their overseas organised crime activities, including scams and online gambling."

During these raids, authorities seized assets totaling S$1 billion, including bank accounts, S$23 million in cash, luxury residences, cars, high-end bags, watches, and two gold bars. Importantly, these individuals held various passports from countries like Cyprus, Cambodia, Dominica, China, Turkey, and Vanuatu.

In early September, the total sum seized was updated to S$1.8 billion as investigations unveiled assets in Swiss banks.

The immense sums involved in this case have become a topic of widespread discussion in Singapore, a city-state that has seen significant investments and private wealth inflow since the onset of the pandemic, while historically maintaining low crime rates.

The latest figures from the central bank underscore this surge, revealing that total assets under management in Singapore surged by 16% in 2021, reaching S$5.4 trillion, compared to a global increase of 12%, totaling $112 trillion for the same year.

As the suspects remain denied bail, it is notable that all of them possessed Chinese passports, with many also holding additional passports from different countries.


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