S'pore businessman wanted by FBI fined $210k over falsified invoices to hide dealings with North Korea

Tan Wee Beng pleaded guilty to seven counts of falsifying invoices. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - A businessman on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) most-wanted list for allegedly laundering millions of dollars for North Korea was fined $210,000 in a Singapore district court on Wednesday (Oct 20) over offences linked to that country.

Tan Wee Beng, now 44, who is the Singaporean managing director and shareholder of commodity trading firm Wee Tiong here, pleaded guilty to seven counts of falsifying invoices to hide his business dealings with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, from two Singapore banks.

Another 13 similar charges were taken into consideration for sentencing.

He is also a director and shareholder of Wee Tiong's sister company, Morgan Marcos.

In a statement on Wednesday, the police said the United Nations (Sanctions - DPRK) Regulations 2010 prohibits anyone in Singapore or Singaporeans outside the city-state from supplying, selling or transferring any designated export or luxury item to people in North Korea.

They are also prohibited from procuring any designated import item from anyone in North Korea.

From Nov 8, 2017, the prohibition includes all commercially traded goods to or from North Korea.

The court heard that Tan sold sugar to two North Koreans - Mr Ri Nam Sok and Mr Jon Chol Ho. He began trading with Mr Ri in 2007 or 2008 and Mr Jon in 2010.

Tan's lawyer, Ms Josephine Chee from law firm Rajah & Tann, had earlier stressed that trade with North Korea was not illegal before Nov 8, 2017.

The court heard that Wee Tiong maintained accounts with OCBC Bank while Morgan Marcos had accounts with UOB.

Between November 2016 and October 2017, Tan received queries from both banks about certain deposits.

He knew the deposits were payments for goods sold to Mr Ri and Mr Jon.

He was concerned that the banks would terminate their relationship with the firms if they found out about his dealings with North Koreans.

The court heard that Tan and Bong Hui Ping, now 39, who was then working as a shipping manager at Wee Tiong, falsified invoices.

The Malaysian woman changed the names of buyers and destination ports to remove any links to North Korea.

Tan signed and sent these invoices to UOB and OCBC Bank.

Court documents did not state how his offences came to light and Bong's case is still pending in the Singapore courts.

Deputy public prosecutor Ryan Lim earlier urged the court to sentence Tan to at least two months' jail.

He added: "It is difficult for banks to detect instances where false documents are provided... Any perverse incentive on the part of customers to do so must be obliterated by deterrent sentences."

The prosecutor, however, acknowledged that no financial harm was caused to the banks due to the falsification of documents.

Ms Chee sought a high fine for her client instead, noting that Tan exported commodities such as soya bean, rice and sugar to North Korea for about 10 years but stopped after Singapore suspended trade ties with that country in November 2017.

For each count of falsifying invoices with intent to defraud, an offender can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

In their statement, the police said: "Singapore takes its obligations under the United Nations Security Council Resolutions seriously, and implements them fully and faithfully.

"The police take a serious view of persons who abuse Singapore's financial system and will not hesitate to take swift action against the individuals or entities that breach our laws and regulations."

Tan is on the FBI's most wanted list as he is accused of crimes including bank fraud, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the US.

He allegedly worked with several other unnamed parties to move money through the international banking system for North Korean banks between 2011 and 2018, violating global sanctions on that country.

A federal arrest warrant was issued for Tan in August 2018.

The Straits Times has contacted the authorities in Singapore to ask whether the US has made an extradition request for Tan.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.