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Parliamentary reply on legal assistance and information requests from countries

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article “DPM Tharman refuses to answer WP’s questions in Parliament” (TR Emeritus, Apr 9).

Parliamentary reply

It states that “Mr Tharman said, “It is generally not the international practice among authorities to reveal the number of legal assistance and information requests from specific countries.”

“However I can assure Members that we have helped fully on all requests from Malaysia and Indonesia in accordance with our current tax agreements. This includes information on details of transactions and companies.”

“We have also offered to Malaysia and Indonesia to update our tax agreements with the internationally agreed Standard for exchange of information for tax purposes. The Standard provides for the exchange of bank information.”

“Once our tax agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia are updated with the Standard, just as for our tax agreements with other countries, we can build further on our good working relations with Malaysia and Indonesia and enhance tax cooperation further.”

Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud

Mr Png’s questions came after a controversial video clip surfaced online last month, alleging that Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud, a senior leader of Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, is involved in corruption. It was alleged that certain property transactions were done through Singapore to avoid paying Malaysia’s Real Property Gain Tax (RPGT).

In the video, Alvin Chong, a lawyer supposedly acting on behalf of Mr Taib’s family interests, said, “That’s why we choose Singapore. The Singapore Government has a China Wall… a firewall. They will not tell the Malaysian government, nothing… They [Malaysian government] ask them and they’ve been turned down… Sorry, it’s none of your business. They (Singapore) are the new Switzerland. Jurisdiction by choice for people like us.”

The video drew a strong response from MAS and MOF of Singapore (‘MAS & MOF: Allegation in video is simply false‘). The Singapore government responded, “The allegation is simply false. Contrary to what was claimed in the video, Singapore has to date provided fully the information requested by Malaysia for tax purposes.”

In addition, it said Singapore has designated a wide range of crimes as predicate offences to money laundering – including corruption, bribery and fraud. “Singapore therefore has been and remains able to provide mutual legal assistance to the fullest extent permitted under our laws where there are requests from Malaysia,” it said in a statement on 21 Mar.”

French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac

“Disgraced French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac, had 15 million euros salted away in his secret Swiss bank account, a Swiss reporter claimed Sunday. And Cahuzac provided a fake tax certificate when he transferred the money to Singapore, reports say.” (“Disgraced budget minister had 15 million in Swiss account, report“, 7 Apr, 2013)

ICIJ offshore accounts leaks

“Deutsche Bank Helped Customers maintain hundreds of offshore entities”

and “Ferdinand Marcos’ daughter tied to Offshore Trust in the Caribbean”

The story on Deutsche Bank alleges that more than 100 customer consultants at Deutsche Bank Singapore helped to create or manage 309 offshore entities for its clients.  Germans attempting to move their funds in Swiss Bank accounts to Singapore or to other tax havens through Singapore is not entirely news.  In October 2012, the German and Singapore governments agreed on a deal to tackle this problem.  The Singapore government agreed to designate tax crimes as “predicate offences” for money laundering.

… within the ICIJ website, the Singapore Link is beginning to throw up many other individuals.  The common feature is the involvement of Portcullis Trustnet.  ICIJ has done a piece on Trustnet:” (“ICIJ’s Offshore Files: The Singapore Link?“, TR Emeritus, Apr 9)

Burmese Generals

“Rights group Earth Rights International says this has allowed the government to siphon off $5bn (£3bn) in revenue.

The money has reportedly been stashed in banks in Singapore, instead of being used to ease poverty in Burma.

Two Singapore banks named in the report also denied involvement.” (“Gas firms ‘prop up Burma’s junta‘”, 10 Sep, 2009)

Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos

“The Philippines’ claim on $23 million its late president Ferdinand Marcos had looted and held in trust at West Landesbank AG’s Singapore branch was dismissed by a Singapore Court.

Justice Andrew Ang dismissed competing claims by the Philippines, citizens who suffered human rights abuses during Marcos’s rule and five others seeking access to the funds kept in the branch.

He allowed a claim by the Philippine National Bank, controlled by Lucio Tan, because it has legal title to the funds, according to a 75-page decision made public today. West Landesbank asked Singapore’s High Court in 2004 to help determine the owners of the money, part of what the judgment said was $567 million in ill-gotten gains of the Marcos family and his aides in various bank accounts.

Marcos, who took power in 1965, was overthrown in 1986 and exiled from the Southeast Asian nation. In 2003, the Philippines Supreme Court ordered more than $658 million of Marcos’s assets to be returned to the country.

Singapore’s courts can’t recognize the Philippines’ claim, which was based on the 2003 verdict, as the funds were never in the Philippines, Ang wrote.” (“Philippines’ Claim on Marcos’s Singapore Funds Dismissed“, 15 Aug, 2012)

Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian

“Reports here said prosecutor Ching Chi-jen would probe claims that the Chen family had transferred funds to Switzerland via the Singapore bank accounts of the ex-president’s brother-in-law Wu Ching-mao.

“Each country has similar rules on judicial assistence,” Ching said as he left, confirming he would meet the Singapore attorney-general’s office.” (“Chen Shui-bian investigated for money laundering“, 27 Aug, 2008)

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

“The 88-year-old president is undergoing intensive treatment for an unnamed condition in Singapore, according to the Zimbabwe Mail.

Mugabe, who has been in power 32 years, had been in Singapore to oversee his daughter Bona’s enrolment in a postgraduate course at Singapore University.

Other members of his family reportedly flew out by private jet yesterday to be at his bedside.

Mugabe is blamed for destroying Zimbabwe’s economy and plunging millions into poverty.

It is one of the world’s poorest countries with around three-quarters of the population living on less than £1 a day.” (“Sick dictator: Tyrant Robert Mugabe ‘fighting for life in hospital‘”, 10 Apr, 2012)


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