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The banks that hold most money in Singapore laundering scandal

Bloomberg
Bloomberg • 4 min read
The banks that hold most money in Singapore laundering scandal
Bearbricks seized from the money-laundering ring / Photo: Bloomberg
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In a Singapore courtroom on Friday, the last of those arrested for their involvement in the island nation’s biggest laundering case pleaded guilty, paving the way for the next steps in the $3 billion scandal.

The city-state must now decide what to do with a fortune in forfeited assets, from luxury properties to collectible ornamental bears and branded handbags. There’s also several hundred million dollars of local and foreign currencies in accounts at some of the world’s top wealth managers. Credit Suisse — now owned by UBS Group, and Citigroup held the largest amounts on deposit so far for the convicted, according to court filings reviewed by Bloomberg. Others with significant exposure include the country’s three largest banks — DBS Group Holdings, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp and United Overseas Bank U11 -

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For decades, Singapore has taken steps to attract the uber rich, spawning a finance industry that’s made it one of the wealthiest countries. The surprise sting operation to take down the online gambling ring last year prompted a rethink, amid signs dirty money is joining legitimate businesses.

Here are the major items that were seized from the money launderers:

Bank Accounts  
The China-born individuals and their close associates, together with companies they controlled, held more than $370 million in total at over a dozen financial institutions, court records compiled by Bloomberg show.

See also: S'poreans say air-con, holidays, dining out are essentials: SMU, IPS study

Singapore's Record Laundering Case Hits Top Banks |

That’s not all, however. Singapore’s top local banks as well as international lenders also made significant loans that were not reflected in the seized assets. DBS for example, said previously it has about $100 million of exposure to the scandal, mainly from financing properties. Singapore’s police force meanwhile, has said that there are 17 other people under investigation whose assets have been seized or frozen, whose tally is not included in the documents.

Spokespeople for banks that held assets of the launderers —Standard Chartered, DBS, UBS, RHB Bank, Julius Baer Group, Malayan Banking, LGT Bank and CIMB Group Holdings declined to comment. OCBC, which also owns Bank of Singapore, a private bank, said it had nothing further to add to past comments on the case. Citi said it’s committed to ensuring its staff are informed of emerging risks and potential issues related to money laundering to better inform clients. UOB said its remains vigilant to money laundering risks and continually ensures that its due diligence checks are robust. 

See also: MAS imposes civil penalty action of $70,000 against Tay Joo Heng for insider trading

HSBC Holdings, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and UOB-Kay Hian Holdings did not respond to requests for comment.

A Rolls-Royce vehicle seized by police at a residence of a suspect’s house in the money-laundering case in Singapore on Oct. 25, 2023.

Properties
Also on authorities’ to-do list is how to handle the tens of properties confiscated from the money launderers. These range from centuries-old shophouses and prime office space to bungalows on Sentosa, an island enclave that’s home to many of the country’s super-rich.

Making the task more complicated is a downturn in Singapore’s luxury property market due to hefty levies on foreign purchases and high interest rates. Early attempts by banks to offload these assets have not always been successful. OCBC, for example, has made two attempts to auction a seized bungalow. The latest last month attracted no bids for an asking price of $26.5 million.

Singapore Laundering Ring’s Million-Dollar Properties | Convicted launderers and close associates bought numerous prime assets

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Whiskey, Handbags

That’s not to mention the other goodies the launderers had to give up. One person held over 726 bottles of alcohol, while the total haul include premium names from Macallan Whisky to prized Kweichow Moutai baijiu. They held millions in cryptocurrency, bags from top brands likes Hermes and Chanel, Patek Philippe watches, and glitzy cars like Ferraris and Rolls-Royces. Also in the mix, collectible statues known as BE@RBRICKs, golf club memberships and a Daniel Arsham x Dior Eroded Basketball sculpture worth US$13,333.

While authorities have committed to auctioning the assets, they will have to time it right to avoid flooding the market. If they don’t sell immediately, it also costs money. Singapore has already incurred more than $640,000 in expenses as of March to maintain the seized assets.

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