Singapore seizes more than S$2.8 billion in money laundering case

Singapore seizes more than S$2.8 billion in money laundering case

In one of the city-state's biggest money laundering investigations, ingapore authorities seized or froze assets worth more than S$2.8 billion, a senior official said Tuesday, while signaling the government may tighten immigration rules to curb illegal inflows.

The Minister of Home Affairs, Josephine Teo, said the amount was higher than the S$2.4 billion previously announced.

The investigation is ongoing and authorities continue to interview Singaporeans and foreigners, she said. The city-state will review how to tighten its immigration verification checks, though Teo said no screening process is fool-proof.

The authorities have seized assets and arrested 10 foreigners, all originally from China, for alleged forgery and laundering proceeds from scams and illegal online gambling.

The island nation is working with international counterparts and local authorities will take action against those who have fallen short, she said.

The case, which erupted into the public eye in mid-August, is shining a light on fund flows from abroad and whether the $2 trillion financial sector, which is leading the city-state's economy, has done enough to block dubious transactions. The arrival of many affluent Asians, including those from China, has resulted in a surge of investments in Singapore, despite the widespread crackdowns in the mainland and pandemic restrictions.

The government had previously asked for dozens of questions to be answered, including the need to tighten current money-laundering regulations, further steps to prevent cross-border crimes and immigration checks.

Teo said the move is in the best interest of the company and the economy, which he said was driven by a lack of investment. At least 240 individuals were convicted of money laundering offenses from 2020 to 2022, with the police seizing more than S$1.2 billion worth of assets.

In the last year, cross-border wealth inflows into Singapore totaled $1.5 trillion, according to an estimate by Boston Consulting Group. The nation's third largest offshore financial hub, after Switzerland and Hong Kong, is where the wealthy park their assets.

The authorities said yesterday additional operations saw the seizures of bank accounts with a value of more than S$1.13 billion and cryptocurrencies of more than S$38 million. The police also have ordered that the sale of more than 110 properties and 62 vehicles, totaling more than S$1.24 billion.

Some Chinese-born clients with other citizenships are being sought by banks in the wealthy island nation.

Some lenders are looking into new account openings and transactions with clients of Chinese origin carrying investment-related passports, Bloomberg reported. At least one international bank is shutting down some accounts of clients with citizenship from countries such as Cambodia, Cyprus, Turkey and Vanuatu.