The two companies mentioned in the Pandora Papers that have business activities in Singapore were under "intensified scrutiny" by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) before they were mentioned in the data leak, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday.
The Pandora Papers have not raised significant concerns over anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing controls of financial institutions in Singapore, based on MAS' assessment and information available thus far, Mr Wong told Parliament.
"Nevertheless, MAS is engaging the relevant institutions to assess if tightening of controls is warranted," he added. Mr Wong was addressing questions from a number of MPs on the offshore data leak and how MAS ensures that offshore wealth management services in Singapore remain lawful and legitimate by international standards, among other concerns.
He said that both licensed trust companies with business activity in Singapore mentioned in the papers - Asiaciti Trust Singapore and Trident Trust Company Singapore - had been subject to MAS' supervisory or enforcement actions before the leak.
Asiaciti Trust is based in Singapore, while Trident Trust appears to be headquartered in the British Virgin Islands, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that received the leaked documents.
The ICIJ said Trident Trust "has, for decades, disclosed little about the identity of its owners", and the consortium was not able to confirm the names of any individual owners or founders of this firm.
However, Trident Trust has offices in more than 20 jurisdictions, including Singapore, Panama, Seychelles and Switzerland.
Last year, MAS slapped a $1.1 million penalty on Asiaciti Trust for inadequate safeguards against money laundering and terrorism financing - including its failure to monitor unusually large transactions by "politically exposed" customers. It said Asiaciti Trust had committed various "serious breaches" spanning over a decade, including failing to monitor higher-risk customers more stringently.
Trident Trust Company Singapore was directed by MAS in September last year to remediate weaknesses detected in its risk assessment controls during the authority's supervisory surveillance, Mr Wong revealed.
Assuring the House that Singapore takes the integrity of its financial sector very seriously, he added: "As a major international financial centre, Singapore will always face the risk of illicit financial flows. What is important is that we supervise our financial institutions well and take strong enforcement actions, when necessary, to reduce this risk as much as possible. MAS has been doing this and will continue to do so."
The Pandora Papers dump of more than 11.9 million records, amounting to about 2.94 terabytes of data, allegedly ties world leaders to secret stores of wealth, including King Abdullah of Jordan and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis. This comes five years after the leak known as the Panama Papers exposed how money was hidden by the wealthy in ways that law enforcement agencies could not detect. The ICIJ said the files are linked to about 35 current and former national leaders, and more than 330 politicians and public officials in 91 countries and territories.
The use of offshore companies is not illegal or by itself evidence of wrongdoing, but news organisations in the consortium have said that such transactions could be used to hide wealth from tax collectors and other authorities.