The seizure of assets worth 1.8 billion Singaporean dollars ($1.3 billion) and as many as 10 arrests have brought Singapore’s image as a clean business hub under scrutiny, Al Jazeera reported.
The Singapore police arrested 10 foreign nationals – aged between 31 and 44 and seized luxury items including Hermes handbags, Patek Philippe watches, aged Macallan whisky, and Bentley and Rolls-Royce cars in several raids last month.
The arrested suspects are believed to be originally from Fuji in eastern China but include Cypriot, Turkish, Cambodian, and Vanuatuan passport holders.
The police claimed that the seized assets were the ill-gotten gains of organised crime committed overseas, including scams and online gambling. The proceeds of these gains were brought into the country and filtered through its financial institutions.
The case has cast a spotlight on Singapore which had been seen as a low-crime financial hub, or a “Switzerland of the East”.
It is also unwelcome news for Singapore’s ruling party, which has been rocked by a string of rare political scandals in the past few months, including a corruption probe involving the transport minister.
Analysts said that Singapore can be an attractive option for money launderers owing to its standing as a major financial hub that offers a wide range of financial instruments.
Various sectors of the country’s economy can be used to launder money including real estate and cryptocurrency, casinos, and listed companies.
According to Mak Yuen Teen, an expert at the NUS Business School, the British Virgin Islands, and other tax haven jurisdictions are often used by entities involved in money laundering where the ultimate beneficial owners are not disclosed.
“My worry is that the rabbit hole goes really deep and wide,” Mak told Al Jazeera.
The Council for Estate Agencies, which regulates Singapore’s real estate industry, has said it is investigating property agents who might have facilitated property transactions related to the case.
Singapore was ranked 100 out of 128 in the Basel AML Index 2022. The Index assesses the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing. The country was ahead of other financial hubs like Dubai and Hong Kong.