Money laundering a key target of new proposals

The new amendments tackle a major impediment to transparency by requiring various entities to maintain registers of their beneficial owners or controllers.
The new amendments tackle a major impediment to transparency by requiring various entities to maintain registers of their beneficial owners or controllers.PHOTO: ST FILE

Registers of controllers and owners of firms part of plans to boost corporate transparency

The days of shadowy figures owning or controlling companies will be numbered under new provisions proposed yesterday to improve transparency in the corporate sector.

Money laundering is one of the main targets of the proposals, but they will extend into many corners of corporate life here.

The changes will be wide-ranging, affecting non-listed and non-financial institution companies, as well as foreign companies and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) registered here. Listed companies are exempt because they are already subject to the Securities and Futures Act, while the Monetary Authority of Singapore has oversight of financial institutions.

The new amendments tackle a major impediment to transparency by requiring these entities to maintain registers of their beneficial owners or controllers.

This will be a step-up from the current regime, which has no statutory requirements for maintaining registers of information on beneficial ownership. It essentially means that these entities must keep a clear and updated record of who controls the business, directly or indirectly, giving the authorities clearer visibility of their ownership.

 

The proposed changes were among the amendments to the Companies Act and the Limited Liability Partnerships Act tabled yesterday by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (Acra) for public consultation.

The aim is "to ensure Singapore's transparency levels are in line with international standards", the MOF and Acra said.

The new amendments tackle a major impediment to transparency by requiring these entities to maintain registers of their beneficial owners or controllers.

This is a reference to recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The FATF noted in a September report that Singapore's current measures are not sufficient to ensure the timely availability of accurate and updated information on beneficial owners. And these unknown owners would remain unseen even if they break laws.

Gibson Dunn partner Robson Lee said: "(Foreign companies and LLPs) controlled by unknown owners could be a means for illicit funds to flow into and be warehoused in or through Singapore.

"For example, they could funnel the illicit funds into these companies in Singapore for office and industrial property purchases, or even to set up an investment holding company to acquire other businesses - all for money laundering."

There might be additional compliance costs for companies, however.

TSMP Law joint managing director Stefanie Yuen Thio noted that while these new provisions will see Singapore adopt the best global practices against money laundering and terrorism financing, they may also create "thick reams of paperwork", and the Government needs to carefully balance compliance with ease of doing business.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2016, with the headline 'Money laundering a key target of new proposals'. Print Edition | Subscribe