PARLIAMENT

Higher fines for not reporting terror financing, suspicious transactions

Laws being updated to beef up deterrence, boost fight against such crimes: Josephine Teo

Harsher penalties and increased enforcement powers are now in place under legislation passed yesterday to tackle terrorism financing and money laundering.

Individuals with a high level of culpability in not reporting terrorism financing offences could face a maximum fine of $250,000, up from the current $50,000. The maximum jail term remains at five years.

Corporations which have a high level of culpability due to professional obligations will face a maximum fine of $1 million or twice the value of the property or services related to terrorism financing, whichever is higher. The fine is up from the current ceiling of $250,000.

Similarly, penalties for individuals who fail to report suspicious transactions potentially related to criminal conduct or drug dealing will increase from the current $20,000 to a maximum fine of $250,000 with up to three years' jail.

The fine for corporations guilty of the same offence will also increase to $500,000, from $20,000.

These are among the changes passed in Parliament yesterday to the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA) and the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act (CDSA).

The enhanced penalties and enforcement efforts come against the backdrop of the growing volume and complexity of financial transactions, which make such crimes harder to tackle, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo during the second reading of the Serious Crimes and Counter-Terrorism (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, which updated the TSOFA and CDSA.

 
 

In the last five years, Singapore has seen around 70 convictions annually for money laundering. In 2016, there were six convictions for terrorism financing. "However, we will need to strengthen our defences," Mrs Teo said, adding that harsher punishments would strengthen deterrence.

Under the CDSA, it is an offence not to file a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) when one has reason to suspect that a property is linked to criminal conduct or drug dealing.

"However, the existing penalties for not doing so are manifestly low... Given the sums of money involved in such crimes, this is not sufficient as a deterrent," she said.

Changes to the CDSA will also allow Singapore to exchange financial intelligence with a larger network of financial intelligence units from overseas jurisdictions and more effectively take money mules to task.

Four MPs spoke during the debate, with some such as Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asking about the efficacy of existing laws.

In response, Mrs Teo said from 2013 to last year, the number of STRs filed increased significantly from 22,000 to 35,000. She added that Singapore is an international financial hub that is a potential transit point for illicit funds, and there are serious consequences if the risks of money laundering and terrorism financing are not addressed.

"All in all, the proposed amendments strengthen our frameworks to combat such criminal activities and ensure that we will have even more effective levers and powers to deter, detect and prosecute."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2018, with the headline 'Higher fines for not reporting terror financing, suspicious transactions'. Print Edition | Subscribe