Fresh charge against ex-banker in 1MDB case

It alleges $16m was transferred from former unit of troubled Malaysian state fund to firm

A new charge brought against former BSI wealth manager Yeo Jiawei alleges that US$11.95 million (S$16.3 million) was transferred from a former subsidiary of embattled Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The money is said to have gone to a firm controlled by a business associate of Penang-born tycoon Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.

Yeo, 33, whom prosecutors said "played no small role in efforts to conceal the hands of those involved", was charged with facilitating the transfer from SRC International (Malaysia) to Affinity Equity International Partners, a company controlled by Jho Low associate Tan Kim Loong.

To facilitate the transfer via Pacific Harbor Global Growth Fund, an intermediary, Yeo allegedly fraudulently signed a reference letter to Citigroup's head of anti-money laundering and sanctions compliance for Europe, the Middle East and Africa to dupe the bank into thinking the letter was signed by the authority of BSI Bank Singapore.

SRC is now under Malaysia's Ministry of Finance, the sole shareholder of 1MDB.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak had been embroiled in a scandal over a deposit of RM42 million (S$14 million) found in his personal bank accounts from SRC, but the Malaysian Attorney-General had cleared the leader of criminal wrongdoing in the matter.

In addition, the Swiss authorities said their probe revealed suspected misappropriation of US$4 billion involving four cases relating to SRC and others.

The new charge brings the total charges against Yeo to seven.

This charge "opens up an entirely new front in the investigations", Singapore's Second Solicitor-General Kwek Mean Luck said yesterday. The probe has "reached a critical stage" as they are "moving closer to the centre of a complex web of cross-jurisdictional criminal transactions... the origins of the money flows and the principals Yeo has been interacting with".

Prosecutors said this charge is related to an earlier one in which Yeo is accused of having cheated BSI Bank Singapore by hiding the fact that he would receive, through Bridgerock Investment, a firm he controlled, a portion of the annual management fees paid to Pacific Harbor Holdings, the investment manager of Pacific Harbor Global Growth Fund.

Earlier, Yeo was charged with obstructing justice, cheating his former employer, money laundering and transferring funds that represented his benefits from criminal conduct.

In arguing for Yeo's remand to be extended, Mr Kwek noted that every additional remand period that the prosecution has sought has made "a meaningful difference in progressing this matter". He disclosed that 18 witnesses have been interviewed in the past eight weeks.

But Yeo's lawyer Philip Fong of Harry Elias Partnership argued: "This is not a case where hundreds of charges were tendered against Yeo... If this case is truly so complex, and documents are so voluminous, where are the charges to support this?"

He also questioned if the request for remand, the fourth one without bail, is being made to "extract a confession from Yeo". He asked for access of at least two hours to Yeo, saying his access so far has been "anything but reasonable".

"There is no reason that access to counsel is limited to 30 minutes, no reason given for why our interview with him is limited only to the six (earlier) charges, considering that this is a very extensive investigation and there is further evidence to be obtained.

"To limit the interview to 30 minutes and the scope of discussion is going overboard... No lawyer can take proper instructions in just a span of 30 minutes. It was literally with a stopwatch running."

He also asked that Yeo's wife and three-year-old daughter be given supervised access to Yeo. He added that Yeo had developed severe constipation during remand.

But Mr Kwek disagreed, saying Yeo has been "economical with the truth and actively intervened with investigation". Further, Yeo's wife and parents are also under investigation for receiving "tainted funds" and his wife had made contact with a witness.

District Judge Christopher Goh granted the prosecution's request to remand Yeo for another week and allowed Yeo's daughter to have supervised access to him.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2016, with the headline 'Fresh charge against ex-banker in 1MDB case'. Print Edition | Subscribe