5-fold jump in amount of foreign illicit funds seized

Last year, more than one-third of suspicious transaction reports came from the banking sector, with 14,273 reports. Money changers and remittance agents submitted 6,413 reports, and casinos made 6,032 reports.
Last year, more than one-third of suspicious transaction reports came from the banking sector, with 14,273 reports. Money changers and remittance agents submitted 6,413 reports, and casinos made 6,032 reports.PHOTO: ST FILE

CAD credits increased surveillance, global cooperation for increase to $164.5m last year

Singapore last year seized five times the amount of assets from foreign criminal proceedings compared with 2015, stemming from increased surveillance, regulatory action and international cooperation with foreign law enforcement.

The Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) confiscated $164.5 million, up from $33.6 million the previous year, while joint investigations into money laundering offences rose from five to 13 cases in the same period, according to its latest annual report.

The monies were seized from foreign predicate offences, which are crimes that took place overseas but where funds were passed through Singapore, and include crimes such as money laundering and financing of terrorists or terrorist groups.

CAD director David Chew was quoted in the report as attributing the jump in numbers to the "deepened engagement" with foreign counterparts: "When it comes to cross-border crimes, we are as strong as our weakest link. It is therefore important that we not just build our capabilities - we need to collaborate with our foreign counterparts to build capacity in order to stay ahead of the crime trends."

Last year, the CAD partnered the Chinese authorities to crack down on overseas syndicates targeting Singaporeans in credit-for-sex scams, which led to the rounding up of 140 suspects in China.

Cyber and financial crime expert Vincent Loy said the increase in amounts seized is undoubtedly due to the authorities' increased surveillance and regulatory action taken on transnational crimes.

Singapore passed amendments to the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act in 2014. Changes included allowing a wider range of evidence to be adduced and stiffer penalties.

But as technology advances and the world gets more connected, Mr Loy said criminals will only get smarter. "The authorities will of course increase regulation, but they will also have to make use of technological advancements to tackle the problem," he added.

Even as white-collar crimes become more sophisticated and transnational, entities such as banks and money changers are also becoming more vigilant. According to the CAD report released recently, the number of suspicious transaction reports submitted last yearhit a high of 34,129. It marked a 12 per cent spike from 2015 and continued a rising trend from 2013, which saw 22,417 reports.

The CAD report noted: "The upward trend is an indication of the continued vigilance of reporting entities in detecting suspicious transactions and the anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism awareness (here)."

The reports were filed with the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO) - a unit under CAD that receives, analyses and disseminates financial intelligence.

Last year, more than one-third of suspicious transaction reports came from the banking sector, with 14,273 reports. The sector continued to account for the main source of reports received, but other sectors also saw an increase. Money changers and remittance agents submitted 6,413 reports, and casinos made 6,032 reports.

The STRO also received 227 requests for assistance from foreign counterparts last year, a figure that has risen since 2012, said CAD.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline '5-fold jump in amount of foreign illicit funds seized'. Print Edition | Subscribe