Further enhancements to S’pore’s robust system against money laundering


Singapore is renowned as a global financial hub where governance is transparent and the rule of law is strong; we are internationally and locally known for thoroughly investigating and prosecuting any potential breaches of our financial regulations. 

Now, this rule of law is getting stronger. As Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo pointed out in one of the three Ministerial Statements read in Parliament regarding the ongoing $2.8 billion money laundering case this Tuesday (Oct 3), our political officeholders have come swiftly together to set up ALERT, the inter-ministerial Anti-Money Laundering Efforts Review Taskforce.  

ALERT will strengthen existing whole-of-government anti-money laundering systems; Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah will chair it.   

This is an important and concrete step not only because the finance sector contributes 14 per cent of the national GDP and employs about 200, 000 people. It goes towards preserving Singapore’s hard-earned international reputation as a clean, trusted business hub. 

ALERT: Anti-Money Laundering Efforts Review Taskforce 

ALERT is for enhancing Singapore’s already-robust anti-money laundering system in four main areas, said Minister Indranee in her subsequent Ministerial Statement.  

These include better preventing money launderers from abusing corporate structures and more effective collaboration between financial institutions and authorities. It will also develop more solutions for private sector stakeholders such as real estate agents to guard against money laundering. 

Also included: Stronger centralised monitoring and sense-making across government agencies for improving the detection of suspicious activities. 

“Where gaps are identified, we will tighten our regulations and enforcement to prevent exploitation by criminals. The Taskforce will share its progress and findings in due time,” said Minister Indranee.  

This overall approach is timely and decisive; this is an age where increasingly sophisticated criminals constantly seek new ways to circumvent laws and regulations. It helps the nation improve its system and stay one step ahead of these criminals across multiple fronts. 

MAS is tough on criminals  

What of Singapore’s existing safeguards though?  

Here, our MP Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) asked how surveillance and international partnerships between the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and other regulators helped to prevent and take down money laundering syndicates. After all, money laundering networks frequently operate across borders and international cooperation is critical to combating them.  

MAS brought severe penalties against stakeholders in the billion-dollar 1MDB case. These firm enforcement actions included banning people from working in the financial sector and outright closing down two banks, responded Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan in his related Ministerial Statement. 

MOS Tan also pointed out that Singapore’s deep and diverse financial ecosystem makes us a target for criminals, and that the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has worked with financial institutions (FIs) for decades to stymie their illicit activities. This cooperation, in fact, recently helped put the corrupt former Chief Financial Officer of Agritrade International behind bars for 20 years.

“MAS is conducting detailed supervisory reviews and inspections on financial institutions with a major nexus to this case. MAS will also take a critical look at how the suspects were able to access financial services in Singapore,” stated MOS Tan regarding the ongoing $2.8 billion case.  

Where the financial sector is a major driver of Singapore’s economy, these exacting, no-nonsense efforts are in line with Singapore’s overall prevention-detection-enforcement strategy against money laundering

They will complement Minister Indranee’s work at ALERT and the existing laws designed to balance between making it easy to do business in Singapore and ensuring strong corporate governance to uphold investors’ confidence.   

Strengthening Singapore’s zero tolerance towards money launderers 

There were questions too about Singapore’s Suspicious Transaction Reporting regime; these were filed by our MPs Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC), Derrick Goh (Nee Soon GRC) and Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) as well as NMP Razwana Rahim. 

Minister Teo responded that the Suspicious Transaction Reporting Office (STRO), the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Singapore Police Force, works with sectoral regulators to develop and update red flag indicators which improve the detection of money laundering activities.  
Additionally, the STRO analyses the intelligence it receives — no matter whether from its reports, STRO’s foreign counterparts, or other sources — and shares it with the authorities when necessary and for facilitating further investigations. 

Minister Teo pointed out further that “zero tolerance of money laundering does not mean zero occurrence”.  

“This is not the first time that we have taken serious enforcement action against money laundering offences. Nor will it be the last, even with stringent measures in place to continuously review our practices,” she stated about the ongoing $2.8 billion case.

“This Police operation has strengthened our reputation as a serious, high-quality financial centre, and for law and order. It will strengthen trust and confidence among investors, and Singaporeans, that we run a clean system that stands among the tallest in the world,” said Minister Teo about how the overall Police operation drew connections from the evidence while not alerting the suspects.

Source: K8 / Unsplash 

Indeed, where much attention has focused on the case as it proceeds, there will also be much focus on how it resolves.  

Here, the close and ongoing cooperation between financial sector regulatory stakeholders, the robust institutional framework and laws, and ALERT will send these intertwined messages: We welcome legitimate investors and businesses. Meanwhile, we have built up a robust, world-leading system against money laundering — we will further enhance it.