A sprawling and multi-national money laundering case that recently came to light in Singapore has taken an even more staggering turn, with the involvement of over S$2.4 billion (equivalent to US$1.8 billion) in seized or frozen assets.
This astronomical figure marks a more than two-fold increase from the initial revelation in mid-August when Singaporean authorities conducted raids, leading to the confiscation of assets valued at S$1 billion, including luxury cars, real estate, cash, crypto, and other valuables.
Subsequently, in early September, prosecutors presented an updated figure of S$1.8 billion in court.
As of 20 September, the police reported further operations that resulted in the seizure of additional assets and the issuance of prohibition of disposal orders.
This vast cache now encompasses bank accounts with an estimated total worth exceeding S$1.127 billion, along with a variety of cash holdings, including foreign currencies, totalling more than S$76 million.
A substantial surge from the initial seizures in August, which amounted to over S$110 million and S$23 million, respectively.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) posted last month that they will “not tolerate the abuse of our financial system for illicit activities.”
The law enforcement agencies have also gained control of 68 gold bars, marking a significant increase from the initial two, in addition to 294 luxury bags, 164 luxury watches, 546 pieces of jewellry (up from over 270), and 204 electronic devices, including computers and mobile phones.
Furthermore, more than 110 properties and 62 vehicles, together valued at over S$1.242 billion, have been subjected to prohibition of disposal orders in connection with the ongoing investigation — a significant escalation from the previous figures of 105 properties and 50 vehicles.
The assets under scrutiny extend beyond the physical realm, with cryptocurrencies amounting to over S$38 million also being seized, alongside various bottles of liquor, wine, and numerous ornaments.
The cumulative value of assets seized or issued with prohibition of disposal orders now stands at an astonishing S$2.4 billion, according to the police, who have underscored that investigations remain ongoing.
The ten suspects involved in this complex case, all of Chinese origin but holding diverse nationalities and passports ranging from Cyprus to Cambodia, have been denied bail thus far.
It is worth noting that at least two of them are sought by Chinese authorities, while an additional 24 suspects were named in a notice issued by Singapore’s Law Ministry in late August.
The gravity of this case has prompted over 20 lawmakers to pose more than 30 questions during Singapore’s latest parliamentary session, seeking clarity on the ongoing money laundering probe.
In response, the Home Affairs Ministry has announced its intention to collaborate with other ministries and deliver a ministerial statement in October, addressing the numerous inquiries raised by parliamentarians.
The recent high-profile scandal and subsequent arrests as part of the money laundering investigation have left a discernible impact on Singapore’s reputation as a prominent wealth management centre.
Several major financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer Group, Citigroup Inc., Oversea-Chinese Banking, and United Overseas Bank, have found themselves linked to clients implicated in the ongoing probe.
Recognising the gravity of the situation, the MAS has initiated supervisory engagements with these banks and other financial entities connected to the potentially tainted funds.
Singapore has taken proactive steps in the realm of cryptocurrency regulation, aiming to strike a balance between fostering innovation and maintaining rigorous oversight.
While the nation has embarked on the path of regulating cryptocurrencies, it has simultaneously upheld its vigilance over the crypto industry.
In a forward-looking move, the MAS is actively planning to integrate cryptocurrencies into the realm of retail payments.
To achieve this, Singapore has forged collaborative partnerships with influential firms such as JPMorgan and DBS Group.
The spokesperson of DBS Group Holdings said:
“Singapore’s regulatory regime obliges all banks to manage anti-money laundering risk to high standards, but does not oblige them to deny banking facilities or services to clients – new or existing – of any specific origin merely because they hold certain passports. Other risk factors have to trigger before suspicion is warranted.”
Authorities in Singapore have issued a total of 190 Major Payment Institution licenses, with 11 of these licenses specifically allocated to Digital Payment Token companies.
Furthermore, Ripple has received in-principle approval for a Major Payment Institution License from the MAS signifying the country’s ongoing commitment to fostering innovation within the digital payments landscape.