Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) logo signage on the building at entrance (Photo by mimisim from Shutterstock.com)

Reopening of 1MDB probe by MAS not politically influenced but “to protect public interest”: Enforcement Dept exec director

Singapore’s extensive probe into illegal financial activities surrounding Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) was not politically influenced, but rather motivated by an obligation to safeguard “public interest”.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Enforcement Department executive director Gillian Tan told The Straits Times on Wed (20 Mar) that “We do it simply to look at whether a breach has occurred, whether the evidence is sufficient and whether it is in the public interest to pursue.”

Branding the probe as “a great example of effective cross-border collaboration”, Ms Tan highlighted that the MAS has been working closely with the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police Force in “reviewing leads and evidence” and “conducting raids”.

“The fact that CAD is part of the broader police force has many benefits – the ethos, the training, the mindset and the police resources,” said Ms Tan.

“What we are trying to do is to have the best of both worlds, to bring our respective strengths to the table, leverage these synergies and also work in a seamless way across agencies when we need to work together,” she added.

1MDB-related financial breaches such as money laundering a significant part of MAS’ enforcement actions in 2017 and 2018, according to latest Enforcement Report

MAS’ latest Enforcement Report highlighted that financial breaches related to the 1MDB graft scandal such as money laundering were also subject to MAS’ enforcement actions during the aforementioned period, including shutting down banks, imposing financial penalties against financial institutions failing to meet the expected anti-money laundering standards, and banning errant individuals from Singapore’s financial industry.

MAS noted that its review of the case is its most comprehensive anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism review to date, adding that it has worked closely with the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Commercial Affairs Department (CAD), as well as foreign regulatory and law enforcement agencies to uncover a complex web of transactions involving numerous offshore shell companies and conspirators operating in multiple jurisdictions.

The Authority also revealed that there are ongoing investigations into other financial institutions and individuals suspected of being involved in the 1MDB-related offences.

MAS response to queries regarding 1MDB investigations not “unexpected”, but nonetheless “regrettable”: Centre for Executive Education CEO Sattar Bawany

Chief executive officer of the Centre for Executive Education Sattar Bawany, however, managed to raise specific questions regarding MAS’ probe into the 1MDB-related financial offences on 7 Feb 2019.

Firstly, he asked the Authority if it was alerted to “a large number of funds (US$681 million) being transferred from the Singapore bank to the Malaysian bank account” through “its own internal monitoring system or processes”, and further asked as to why was the transfer was not stopped “to prevent the transfer to an overseas bank account belonging to a ‘Politically Exposed Person (PEP)’,” namely Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak, if such is the case.

Secondly, Prof Sattar questioned as to “how much money belonging to the 1MDB is currently being held by MAS or the proper authorities in Singapore” from the US$620 million that is being returned, in addition to whether the funds have been “disbursed or transferred out to 3rd parties”, who he insisted MAS on naming.

Thirdly, he asked MAS as to why “the fraudulently obtained funds from 1MDB were not returned to the Malaysian Government or the US DOJ”, given that the two entities have “instituted legal proceedings to recover these funds”.

MAS responded to Prof Sattar’s queries four days later on 11 Feb, stating that it has “issued several media releases in the past” regarding the investigations.

“We seek your understanding that MAS’ supervisory dealings with banks are confidential. Investigations are also still ongoing in Singapore and in other countries.

As such, we are unable to provide any further information to your questions,” concluded the Authority.

While Prof Sattar said that the response was not “unexpected”, he noted that it was “regrettable”, as the 1MDB-related charges “against former PM of Malaysia, Najib Razak, is already before the Malaysian Courts”.

Consequently, he raised the question as to what is really being investigated by MAS and the Singapore authorities.

“The US Department of Justice (DOJ)”, added Prof Sattar, “has also commenced prosecutorial actions against those implicated in the 1MDB scandal which has been dubbed as one of the biggest if not the biggest kleptocracy cases in the World”.

“I sincerely hope that our MPs on both sides of the aisle would raise this matter in Parliament soon,” he urged.