Singaporean accused of helping North Koreans evade US sanctions

He claims to run legitimate business despite facing US charges

Singaporean businessman Tan Wee Beng on an FBI "Wanted" poster. A warrant of arrest for him has been out since Aug 29.
Singaporean businessman Tan Wee Beng on an FBI "Wanted" poster. A warrant of arrest for him has been out since Aug 29. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A Singaporean businessman accused by the United States authorities of bank fraud and money laundering, as well as of helping North Korean entities evade US sanctions, said he was running a legitimate business.

Mr Tan Wee Beng was quoted by the BBC yesterday as saying in a telephone interview: "The FBI has not called me, the Singapore police have not called me.

"We are an international trading company and not a front (for laundering)."

Mr Tan, 41, is one of the two directors of Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, a company founded by his father, and managing director of WT Marine.

Both companies have had sanctions placed on them by the US Treasury.

A Singapore police spokesman told The Straits Times: "Singapore takes its obligations under the United Nations Security Council resolutions seriously. We will take appropriate action based on the outcome of our investigations. As these are ongoing, we are unable to comment further at this point."

A warrant of arrest for Mr Tan - not made public - has been out since Aug 29, and a formal charge was issued by the US Department of Justice on Thursday.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has placed Mr Tan on its "Most Wanted" list, alleging he conspired to violate the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) by "doing business with North Korean proliferation entities".

From as far back as in 2011, Mr Tan and others in his company allegedly fulfilled millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea.

FBI assistant director William Sweeney said in a statement that Mr Tan "conducted illicit transactions totalling millions of dollars in support of North Korean entities in blatant violation of a host of economic sanctions the United States has established against North Korea and North Korean entities".

Mr Tan faces six charges in court documents seen by The Straits Times.

They include conspiracy to violate the IEEPA, bank fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the US.

Court papers also suggested that money transfers involved front companies in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong.

Yesterday, WT Marine's Parkway Parade office telephone number appeared to have been disconnected.

At one of Wee Tiong's offices at Kallang Distripark, staff claimed they were unfamiliar with the name Tan Wee Beng.

But at the trading firm's head office in Kallang Pudding Road, employees told The Straits Times that Mr Tan was not available for comment. "He is actually not in the office," said a male executive.

Mr Tan, an engineer by training, was named "Entrepreneur of the Year" by Ernst and Young.

A 2015 report by The Straits Times said his father insisted he join the family business shortly after he graduated, and he eventually took over the reins. Under his charge, annual revenue increased by about 131 per cent to about $462.5 million in 10 years.

Other Singaporeans have landed in trouble for also doing business with North Korea.

On Oct 18, a director of three local companies, Chong Hock Yen, 58, was charged in Singapore with 43 counts of involvement in a conspiracy to supply luxury goods worth over $500,000 to North Korea.

Another Singaporean, Ng Kheng Wah, 56, was charged with the same offence in July this year.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2018, with the headline Singaporean accused of helping North Koreans evade US sanctions. Subscribe