More reports of suspicious transactions are being received by the authorities, with 34,129 reports made in 2016. This is a 12 per cent annual increase, according to latest figures from the Commercial Affairs Department of the police force.
The reports, which play a critical role in the ongoing national fight against money laundering and terrorist financing, cover transactions ranging from bank loans and jewellery purchases to buying chips at a casino. Two main sources provide these reports.
One is financial institutions, such as banks, remittance agents and money changers, and the other is non-financial businesses such as casinos, accountants, lawyers and real estate agents.
Some businesses, like those that deal in precious stones and metals, are required to submit reports for cash transactions above $20,000.
In 2016, about 42 per cent of the reports were from the banking sector. That year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore shut down and fined two Swiss merchant banks for lapses in anti-money laundering controls it uncovered during its investigation of banks here in relation to the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.
To battle white-collar crimes, conveyancing professionals, including housing agents, lawyers and bank executives, have a list of information they must know.
• Who are the property's beneficial owners?
• Are the clients or beneficial owners sanctioned by the United Nations, or listed in the Panama Papers or published databases of financial criminals, terrorists and their financiers?
• Is the client a politically exposed person, or a family member and close associate of one? Close associates include mistresses, as well as prominent members of the same political party, labour union or civil organisation as the politically exposed person.
• Did the client show any suspicious behaviour like demanding for shortcuts or pay fully in cash?
• How did the buyers obtain the funds used in the transaction? Can they show evidence such as tax returns and bank statements?
• Is the person from a high-risk country that the global Financial Action Task Force has called for countermeasures or enhanced due diligence measures?
Ng Jun Sen