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Singapore accused of being a “laundromat” of Russian oil helping to fund Putin’s war chest

SINGAPORE — The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) produced a report two months ago (April 2023) accusing Singapore and several other countries like UAE, China, India and Turkey, of being a “laundromat” of Russian oil.

CREA is a nonprofit think tank organization founded in Helsinki with the goal of tracking the impacts of air pollution and energy consumption.

In particular, it is also identifying fossil fuel exports from Russia and effective economic and financial countermeasures against Russia so as to help end Russia’s unprovoked attack against Ukraine.

CREA said it absolutely condemns Russia’s attack as a violation of the fundamental values of human well-being, safety, and dignity.

In its report, it noted that Western countries that have largely banned the imports of oil from Russia, imported EUR 42 billion worth of oil products from the five countries that have increased imports of Russian crude oil in the past year since Russia’s invasion.

“Well into the second year of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the EU, most of the G7 countries, and Australia have cracked down on their imports of Russian crude oil and oil products,” CREA said.

“At the same time, these countries, which are all part of the price-cap coalition whose objective is to limit Russia’s revenues from fossil fuel exports, have increased imports of refined oil products by leaps and bounds from the countries that have become the largest importers of Russian crude oil.”

CREA accuses Singapore and four others of importing Russian crude and then selling oil products to those price-cap coalition countries that have sanctioned Russia. “This is a major loophole that can undermine the impact of the sanctions on Russia,” CREA said.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the price cap coalition countries have increased the imports of refined oil products from China (+3.6 million tonnes or +94%), India (+0.3 million tonnes or +2%), Turkey (+1.8 million tonnes or +43%), UAE (+2.6 million tonnes or +23%) and Singapore (+1.8 million tonnes or +33%). Price cap coalition countries’ imports of refined oil products from these five countries have risen by +10 million tonnes (+26%) or EUR 18.7 billion (+80% in value terms).

“We call these five countries that have increased purchases of Russian oil and ‘launder’ it into products shipped to countries having sanctioned Russian oil the ‘laundromat’ countries,” it said.

Among the price cap coalition, the largest importer of oil products from the laundromat countries was the EU, whose imports amounted to EUR 17.7 billion. Australia purchased EUR 8.0 billion, followed by the USA (EUR 6.6 billion), the UK (EUR 5.0 billion) and Japan (EUR 4.8 billion).

In the year following the start of the invasion, seaborne imports of Russian crude oil into China, India, Turkey, UAE and Singapore increased by 140% in volume terms, compared with the 12 month period before the invasion.

The total value of their imports was EUR 74.8 billion over the twelve months, and since the EU crude oil ban until one year after the start of the war, the five “laundromat” countries have made up 70% of Russia’s crude oil exports.

As Russia is forced to offer discounted oil to ensure it is able to find buyers, the laundromat countries are refining larger volumes of imported Russian crude to, then export the refined products to sanction imposing countries.

“This is currently a legal way of exporting oil products to countries that are imposing sanctions on Russia as the product origin has been changed. This process provides funds to Putin’s war chest,” CREA noted.

According to CREA, most of the Russian oil imported by Singapore was refined and sold to Australia later.

Singapore also imposes sanctions on Russia

Among the five countries mentioned, Singapore appears to be most contradictory since, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Singapore also imposed sanctions on Russia.

In March last year, following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), led by Vivian Balakrishnan, expressed its strong commitment to upholding international law and the principles enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Charter. The MFA emphasized that “The sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected. Singapore takes any violation of these core principles seriously.”

The MFA added, “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine contravenes the UN Charter and is a clear and gross violation of international law. This is why Singapore has strongly condemned Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine.”

The ministry further explained that Singapore would join other like-minded countries in imposing appropriate sanctions and restrictions against Russia, aiming to constrain Russia’s capacity to conduct war against Ukraine and undermine its sovereignty.

The sanctions involve imposing export controls on items that could be directly used as weapons against Ukrainians or contribute to offensive cyber operations, and financial measures targeted at designated Russian banks, entities, and activities in Russia. This includes prohibiting digital payment token service providers from facilitating transactions that could help circumvent these financial measures.

In February this year, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, Low Yen Ling, addressed questions posed by Mr Dennis Tan Lip Fong regarding the effect of the recent European Union (EU) ban on Russian oil exports on Singapore’s oil sector.

She explained that the new EU sanctions, which prevent the import of seaborne Russian crude oil and petroleum products into EU territory and restrict EU vessels and companies from transporting these products to third countries if their price exceeds a certain limit, don’t directly involve Singapore.

However, Singapore has its own set of sanctions against Russia, which are specific, targeted, and designed to limit Russia’s ability to wage war in Ukraine. These sanctions will remain unchanged, according to Ms Low.

She added that while Singapore isn’t directly participating in the EU ban, Singaporean businesses and financial institutions have been informed of these measures so that they can evaluate their potential impact and manage their operations, transactions, and customer relationships accordingly.

This presents a contradiction. So while Singapore actively imposes sanctions on Russia to constrain its capacity to conduct war against Ukraine, it is allegedly importing cheap Russian oil according to CREA, thereby potentially contributing to Putin’s war chest.

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