Why It Matters

Keeping the bar high for finance

It is a loud and clear wake-up call to anyone working in the financial service sector here.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) this week moved to ban from its securities industry four disgraced bankers and executives, for periods from 10 years to a lifetime, over their role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal.

Those in the sector are on notice they must stay vigilant against dubious clients or suspicious transactions, especially those relating to money laundering and terrorism financing. Turning a blind eye or failing to report suspicious transactions is no defence, and deliberately obstructing investigations into such activities will not go unpunished.

On Monday, MAS banned former Goldman Sachs star dealmaker Tim Leissner from the securities industry here for 10 years, and said it intends to slap prohibition orders on three others caught up in the scandal. This move comes after the trio - Jens Sturzenegger, former branch manager of Falcon Private Bank in Singapore, and former BSI bankers Yak Yew Chee and Yvonne Seah Yew Foong - were investigated and convicted here.

Leissner has not been charged for any wrongdoing, but was subpoenaed last year by US investigators over 1MDB work.

Given the gravity of their misconduct, MAS said it intends to issue lifetime bans against Sturzenegger and Yak - potentially the first under the Securities and Futures Act and Financial Advisers Act. Seah faces a 15-year ban.

Even if they tried to find employment in the financial industry outside Singapore, it will likely be difficult as the stigma of being associated with the 1MDB scandal will be hard to shake off, observers say.

The latest MAS action comes on top of the regulator shutting down two Swiss-based banks, Falcon and BSI, last year, and issuing fines against UBS Group AG, DBS Group, Standard Chartered and Coutts for breaches related to 1MDB. These moves send the unequivocal message that the industry has to meet high standards of professional conduct, and if it crosses the line, the consequences will be severe.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2017, with the headline 'Keeping the bar high for finance'. Print Edition | Subscribe