Ex-BSI banker Yvonne Seah gets jail term, fine in Singapore's 1MDB probe

Yvonne Seah Yew Foong, former BSI director, walking out of the State Courts on Oct 10, 2016.
Yvonne Seah Yew Foong, former BSI director, walking out of the State Courts on Oct 10, 2016. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Yvonne Seah Yew Foong, a former BSI private banker, was sentenced to two weeks' jail and a fine of $10,000 on Friday, becoming the second person to be convicted in Singapore's probe into alleged money laundering linked to 1Malaysia Development Bhd.

Seah, 45, had pleaded to three charges in a Singapore state court on Friday (Dec 16) for aiding in forging documents and failing to report suspicious transactions allegedly related to Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho.

Prosecutors asked for a two-week jail sentence and S$12,000 in fines.

Seah, in her mitigation plea, cited a "long history of claustrophobia". But prosecutors disputed it saying no doctor confirmed she has claustrophobia.

Seah's supervisor, Yak Yew Chee, is serving an 18-week jail term after being pleading guilty in November for similar offences. Yak, 57, who was also fined S$24,000, will surrender S$7.5 million to the State "to demonstrate his genuine contrition", his lawyer said last month.

Mr Low, also known as Jho Low, has been identified by the Singapore authorities as a person of interest in its ongoing probe into illicit transactions involving 1MDB, amid allegations he embezzled billions from the state fund.

Yak, Jho Low's private banker, was Seah's direct boss and she was the next most senior member of his team. Prosecutors on Friday said Seah closely assisted Yak in managing the relationship with Jho Low and his father, Low Hock Peng, and took instructions from Yak, who, in turn, received instructions from Jho Low and father.

The charges against Yak and Seah relate to the transfer on Nov 2, 2012 of US$153 million from a Coutts Zurich account of Good Star, a firm Mr Low controlled, to the BSI Singapore account of Abu Dhabi-Kuwait-Malaysia Investment Corp, another account Mr Low could access.

Three days later, the US$153 million was moved to Mr Low Hock Peng's BSI account. On Nov 7, US$150 million was moved to another BSI account held by Mr Jho Low. And from his account, US$110 million was transferred to a Swiss account of Selune, a firm he beneficially owned.

"This circular flow of funds from Jho Low to his father and back to Jho Low before it was transferred out of BSI was questioned by an officer from BSI Compliance on Nov 6, 2012 as 'nebulous to say the least and not acceptable in Compliance's view.'" Deputy Public Prosecutor Nathaniel Khng said in court on Friday.

"In response to this, Jho Low boldly stated via e-mail on Nov 7 2012 to BSI that he had decided to give his father wealth he had generated 'as a matter of cultural respect and good fortune that arises from respect,' and his father had decided to accept a token sum and to give the rest back to him," said DPP Khng.

In one charge, Yak allegedly forged a reference letter on Feb 18, 2014 to Mr Olivier Blanchet of French bank BNP Paribas to mislead him that it was signed with BSI's authority. The letter asserted the Low family was a "client of good standing" with cumulative wealth of US$1.63 billion.

Seah was charged with helping Yak forge that letter. She also helped Yak forger another reference letter on May 19, 2014, to Mr Thomas Frey of Swiss financial advisory firm Kendris.

DPP Khng said Seah "knowingly breached the internal regualtions by signing the BNP Paribas letter and the Kendris letter with Yak and herself as the only signatories.

"Seah signed on the two letters to please Yak and to enable both of them to maintain the relationship with Jho Low. Through his connections, Jho Low as their most important client and transactions involving him were crucial to the significant bonuses that Seah earned," DPP Khng added.

Seah's salary plus actual bonus received from BSI between 2010 and 2015 was about S$4.1 million - comprising S$1.85 million in salary and S$2.25 million in bonuses.

BSI was shut down in Singapore in May because of its dealings with 1MDB, as was Falcon Private Bank last month. The remainder of BSI is being sold to Swiss rival EFG International.

A third BSI employee, relationship manager Yeo Jiawei, claimed trial on charges of tampering with witnesses. The verdict is expected on Dec 21.

Yeo, 33, faces another seven counts, including for money laundering and cheating. Those will be dealt with at a separate trial expected to start in April next year.